Paleontologists Find Oldest Fossil of Pterodactylus

This Pterodactylus individual lived in what is now Germany during the Kimmeridgian age of the Late Jurassic epoch, between 155 and 152 million years ago.

Pterodactylus antiquus from the Late Jurassic Torleite Formation of Painten. Image credit: Augustin et al., doi: 10.3897/fr.25.90692.

Pterodactylus antiquus from the Late Jurassic Torleite Formation of Painten. Image credit: Augustin et al., doi: 10.3897/fr.25.90692.

The very first pterosaur that was scientifically described and named, and which thus led to the recognition of this extremely diverse group of flying reptiles, was Pterodactylus from the famous Upper Jurassic Plattenkalk deposits of Bavaria, southern Germany.

The earliest finds of Pterodactylus date back to the 18th century but the precise date of their discovery remains difficult to establish.

Usually, the holotype specimen of Pterodactylus antiquus, found between 1767 and 1784, is regarded as the first discovered pterosaur fossil, although the holotype of Pterodactylus micronyx was found between 1757 and 1779 and thus might have been found earlier.

First described by Cosimo Alessandro Collini in 1784, Pterodactylus antiquus was originally regarded as an aquatic vertebrate with uncertain relationships, before the German naturalist Johann Hermann identified the animal as a flying vertebrate, although he regarded it as a mammal.

The French naturalist and founder of comparative anatomy, Georges Cuvier, finally recognized the reptilian affinities of the specimen and later coined the term ‘pterodactyle’ for it, which was later latinized into Pterodactylus.

During the early phase of pterosaur research, Pterodactylus was a wastebasket genus containing dozens of sometimes distantly related assigned species. Decades later, a comprehensive revision of the genus significantly reduced the number of species.

To date, only one species remains in the genus, Pterodactylus antiquus, although the referral of several specimens to this species and the relationships of them is still debated.

Until now, all Pterodactylus occurrences were from the Tithonian-age deposits (152 to 145 million years old).

The new specimen represents the first occurrence of the genus from the Kimmeridgian age.

It was found in the Rygol Quarry (part of the Torleite Formation) near Painten, a small town situated in the southern part of the Franconian Alb in central Bavaria.

“The rocks of the quarry, which yielded this new specimen, consist of silicified limestone that has been dated to the Kimmeridgian age,” said University of Tübingen paleontologist Felix Augustin.

“Previously, Pterodactylus had only been found in younger rocks of southern Germany belonging to the Tithonian age that follows after the Kimmeridgian.”

The new specimen is an almost complete and exquisitely preserved skeleton including the skull of a small-sized individual.

“Only a very small portion of the left mandible as well as of the left and right tibia is missing,” the paleontologists said.

“Otherwise, the skeleton is nearly perfectly preserved with every bone present and in its roughly correct anatomical position.”

“With a 5-cm-long skull, the Painten Pterodactylus represents a rare sub-adult individual.”

“Generally, the Pterodactylus specimens are not evenly distributed across the full size range but predominantly fall into distinct size-classes that are separated by marked gaps,” Dr. Augustin said.

“The specimen from Painten is a rare representative of the first gap between the small and large sizes.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Fossil Record.


F.J. Augustin et al. 2022. The geologically oldest specimen of Pterodactylus: a new exquisitely preserved skeleton from the Upper Jurassic (Kimmeridgian) Plattenkalk deposits of Painten (Bavaria, Germany). Fossil Record 25 (2): 331-343; doi: 10.3897/fr.25.90692


Source: Paleontologists Find Oldest Fossil of Pterodactylus

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