The Origins of Ancient Pterosaurs

Sabah Bari ’24

Figure 1: These are fossil remains of a reptile. Pterosaurs are a part of the reptile kingdom. 

Pterosaurs were the first flying reptiles with over 150 million years of evolution. The specific anatomy of pterosaurs is what distinguishes them from other Mesozoic reptiles. They are known as Pan Aves, which means dinosaurs. With new fossil discoveries, researchers are now having a better understanding of a dinosaur’s body structure. The origin of pterosaurs is unknown. However, the structure allows archaeologists to recognize lagerpetids as the most similar evolutionary relatives of pterosaurs. Researchers from Stony Brook University have used advanced technology to take a further look at the fossils of the reptiles that lived during the ancient supercontinent Pangea.

Through new and improved observation techniques, researchers have discovered that lagerpetids are about 1m long, cursorial reptiles from Middle–Upper Triassic rocks of South and North America and Madagascar. The advanced technology used was the Computed Tomography, and it allowed the researchers to determine newly found remains. This technology creates outlines and reconstructs the brains of the skeletons. Within the reconstruction, the sensory systems are made, and the researchers found matches of the newly discovered fossils to pterosaurs. Along with characterizing the lagerpetid through its body plan, cranial endocasts and skeletal elements, another way to identify a fossil to be a pterosaur is by looking at the jaw, surface, tooth positions and alignments. Researchers have compiled a data matrix with the anatomical information of the pterosaurs to help distinguish the relationships between the different types of species. Using the Computed Tomography and data matrix, the researchers were able to figure out the morphology of the immediate common ancestor of the pterosaurs. One factor of the pterosaurs that has yet to be elucidated is  the evolutionary process behind their flight and flying behaviors. Since pterosaurs look very different from other reptiles, their  evolutionary origins are difficult to determine.

The understanding of the origin of the pterosaurs allows for researchers to build a foundation of knowledge regarding lagerpetids. This study can help connect other studies around the world to create a potential bigger data matrix. The advancement in technology puts researchers in an advantage to speed up the process of understanding the evolutionary relationships between different fossils.  

Work(s) cited:

[1] Ezcurra, M.D., Nesbitt, S.J., Bronzati, M. et al. Enigmatic dinosaur precursors bridge the gap to the origin of Pterosauria. Nature 588, 445–449 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-3011-4 

[2] Image retrieved from:

https://unsplash.com/photos/keIjMFXUu0Y

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