Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight and the largest animals to ever take wing. The pterosaurs persisted for over 150 million years before disappearing at the end of the Cretaceous, but the patterns of and processes driving their extinction remain unclear. Only a single family, Azhdarchidae, is definitively known from the late Maastrichtian, suggesting a gradual decline in diversity in the Late Cretaceous, with the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction eliminating a few late-surviving species. However, this apparent pattern may simply reflect poor sampling of fossils. Here, we describe a diverse pterosaur assemblage from the late Maastrichtian of Morocco that includes not only Azhdarchidae but the youngest known Pteranodontidae and Nyctosauridae. With 3 families and at least 7 species present, the assemblage represents the most diverse known Late Cretaceous pterosaur assemblage and dramatically increases the diversity of Maastrichtian pterosaurs. At least 3 families-Pteranodontidae, Nyctosauridae, and Azhdarchidae-persisted into the late Maastrichtian. Late Maastrichtian pterosaurs show increased niche occupation relative to earlier, Santonian-Campanian faunas and successfully outcompeted birds at large sizes. These patterns suggest an abrupt mass extinction of pterosaurs at the K-Pg boundary.
BACKGROUND: Pterosaurs have been known from the Cretaceous sediments of the Isle of Wight (southern England, United Kingdom) since 1870. We describe the three-dimensional pelvic girdle and associated vertebrae of a small near-adult pterodactyloid from the Atherfield Clay Formation (lower Aptian, Lower Cretaceous). Despite acknowledged variation in the pterosaur pelvis, previous studies have not adequately sampled or incorporated pelvic characters into phylogenetic analyses. METHODOLOGYPRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The new specimen represents the new taxon Vectidraco daisymorrisae gen. et sp. nov., diagnosed by the presence of a concavity posterodorsal to the acetabulum and the form of its postacetabular process on the ilium. Several characters suggest that Vectidraco belongs to Azhdarchoidea. We constructed a pelvis-only phylogenetic analysis to test whether the pterosaur pelvis carries a useful phylogenetic signal. Resolution in recovered trees was poor, but they approximately matched trees recovered from analyses of total evidence. We also added Vectidraco and our pelvic characters to an existing total-evidence matrix for pterosaurs. Both analyses recovered Vectidraco within Azhdarchoidea. CONCLUSIONSSIGNIFICANCE: The Lower Cretaceous strata of western Europe have yielded members of several pterosaur lineages, but Aptian pterosaurs from western Europe are rare. With a pelvis length of 40 mm, the new animal would have had a total length of c. 350 mm, and a wingspan of c. 750 mm. Barremian and Aptian pterodactyloids from western Europe show that small-bodied azhdarchoids lived alongside ornithocheirids and istiodactylids. This assemblage is similar in terms of which lineages are represented to the coeval beds of Liaoning, China; however, the number of species and specimens present at Liaoning is much higher. While the general phylogenetic composition of western European and Chinese communities appear to have been approximately similar, the differences may be due to different palaeoenvironmental and depositional settings. The western Europe pterodactyloid record may therefore be artificially low in diversity due to preservational factors.
We describe a new taxon of medium-sized (wing span ca. 3 m) azhdarchid pterosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Transylvanian Basin (Sebeş Formation) of Romania. This specimen is the most complete European azhdarchid yet reported, comprising a partially articulated series of vertebrae and associated forelimb bones. The new taxon is most similar to the Central Asian Azhdarcho lancicollis Nessov but possesses a suite of autapomorphies in its vertebrae that include the relative proportions of cervicals three and four and the presence of elongated prezygapophyseal pedicles. The new taxon is interesting in that it lived contemporaneously with gigantic forms, comparable in size to the famous Romanian Hatzegopteryx thambema. The presence of two distinct azhdarchid size classes in a continental depositional environment further strengthens suggestions that these pterosaurs were strongly linked to terrestrial floodplain and wooded environments. To support this discussion, we outline the geological context and taphonomy of our new specimen and place it in context with other known records for this widespread and important Late Cretaceous pterosaurian lineage.
The ‘Solnhofen Limestone’ beds of the Southern Franconian Alb, Bavaria, southern Germany, have for centuries yielded important pterosaur specimens, most notably of the genera Pterodactylus and Rhamphorhynchus. Here we describe a new genus of non-pterodactyloid pterosaur based on an extremely well preserved fossil of a young juvenile: Bellubrunnus rothgaengeri (gen. et sp. nov.).
A small accumulation of bones from the Norian (Upper Triassic) of the Seazza Brook Valley (Carnic Prealps, Northern Italy) was originally (1989) identified as a gastric pellet made of pterosaur skeletal elements. The specimen has been reported in literature as one of the very few cases of gastric ejecta containing pterosaur bones since then. However, the detailed analysis of the bones preserved in the pellet, their study by X-ray microCT, and the comparison with those of basal pterosaurs do not support a referral to the Pterosauria. Comparison with the osteology of a large sample of Middle-Late Triassic reptiles shows some affinity with the protorosaurians, mainly with Langobardisaurus pandolfii that was found in the same formation as the pellet. However, differences with this species suggest that the bones belong to a similar but distinct taxon. The interpretation as a gastric pellet is confirmed.
Azhdarchid pterosaurs include the largest animals to ever take to the skies with some species exceeding 10 metres in wingspan and 220 kg in mass. Associated skeletons show that azhdarchids were long-necked, long-jawed predators that combined a wing planform suited for soaring with limb adaptations indicative of quadrupedal terrestrial foraging. The postcranial proportions of the group have been regarded as uniform overall, irrespective of their overall size, notwithstanding suggestions that minor variation may have been present. Here, we discuss a recently discovered giant azhdarchid neck vertebra referable to Hatzegopteryx from the Maastrichtian Sebeş Formation of the Transylvanian Basin, Romania, which shows how some azhdarchids departed markedly from conventional views on their proportions. This vertebra, which we consider a cervical VII, is 240 mm long as preserved and almost as wide. Among azhdarchid cervicals, it is remarkable for the thickness of its cortex (4-6 mm along its ventral wall) and robust proportions. By comparing its dimensions to other giant azhdarchid cervicals and to the more completely known necks of smaller taxa, we argue that Hatzegopteryx had a proportionally short, stocky neck highly resistant to torsion and compression. This specimen is one of several hinting at greater disparity within Azhdarchidae than previously considered, but is the first to demonstrate such proportional differences within giant taxa. On the assumption that other aspects of Hatzegopteryx functional anatomy were similar to those of other azhdarchids, and with reference to the absence of large terrestrial predators in the Maastrichtian of Transylvania, we suggest that this pterosaur played a dominant predatory role among the unusual palaeofauna of ancient Haţeg.
The Velaux-La Bastide Neuve fossil-bearing site (Bouches-du-Rhône, France) has yielded a diverse vertebrate assemblage dominated by dinosaurs, including the titanosaur Atsinganosaurus velauciensis. We here provide a complete inventory of vertebrate fossils collected during two large-scale field campaigns. Numerous crocodilian teeth occur together with complete skulls. Pterosaur, hybodont shark and fish elements are also represented but uncommon. Magnetostratigraphic analyses associated with biostratigraphic data from dinosaur eggshell and charophytes suggest a Late Campanian age for the locality. Lithologic and taphonomic studies, associated with microfacies and palynofacies analyses, indicate a fluvial setting of moderate energy with broad floodplain. Palynomorphs are quite rare; only three taxa of pollen grains occur: a bisaccate taxon, a second form probably belonging to the Normapolles complex, and another tricolporate taxon. Despite the good state of preservation, these taxa are generally difficult to identify, since they are scarce and have a very minute size. Most of the vertebrate remains are well preserved and suggest transport of the carcasses over short distances before accumulation in channel and overbank facies, together with reworked Aptian grains of glauconite, followed by a rapid burial. The bones accumulated in three thin layers that differ by their depositional modes and their taphonomic histories. Numerous calcareous and iron oxides-rich paleosols developed on the floodplain, suggesting an alternating dry and humid climate in the region during the Late Campanian.
Fossil eggs and embryos that provide unique information about the reproduction and early growth of vertebrates are exceedingly rare, particularly for pterosaurs. Here we report on hundreds of three-dimensional (3D) eggs of the species Hamipterus tianshanensis from a Lower Cretaceous site in China, 16 of which contain embryonic remains. Computed tomography scanning, osteohistology, and micropreparation reveal that some bones lack extensive ossification in potentially late-term embryos, suggesting that hatchlings might have been flightless and less precocious than previously assumed. The geological context, including at least four levels with embryos and eggs, indicates that this deposit was formed by a rare combination of events, with storms acting on a nesting ground. This discovery supports colonial nesting behavior and potential nesting site fidelity in the Pterosauria.
A pterosaur bone bed with at least 47 individuals (wing spans: 0.65-2.35 m) of a new species is reported from southern Brazil from an interdunal lake deposit of a Cretaceous desert, shedding new light on several biological aspects of those flying reptiles. The material represents a new pterosaur, Caiuajara dobruskii gen. et sp. nov., that is the southermost occurrence of the edentulous clade Tapejaridae (Tapejarinae, Pterodactyloidea) recovered so far. Caiuajara dobruskii differs from all other members of this clade in several cranial features, including the presence of a ventral sagittal bony expansion projected inside the nasoantorbital fenestra, which is formed by the premaxillae; and features of the lower jaw, like a marked rounded depression in the occlusal concavity of the dentary. Ontogenetic variation of Caiuajara dobruskii is mainly reflected in the size and inclination of the premaxillary crest, changing from small and inclined (∼115°) in juveniles to large and steep (∼90°) in adults. No particular ontogenetic features are observed in postcranial elements. The available information suggests that this species was gregarious, living in colonies, and most likely precocial, being able to fly at a very young age, which might have been a general trend for at least derived pterosaurs.
The pterosaurs were a diverse group of Mesozoic flying reptiles that underwent a body plan reorganization, adaptive radiation, and replacement of earlier forms midway through their long history, resulting in the origin of the Pterodactyloidea, a highly specialized clade containing the largest flying organisms. The sudden appearance and large suite of morphological features of this group were suggested to be the result of it originating in terrestrial environments, where the pterosaur fossil record has traditionally been poor [1, 2], and its many features suggested to be adaptations to those environments [1, 2]. However, little evidence has been available to test this hypothesis, and it has not been supported by previous phylogenies or early pterodactyloid discoveries. We report here the earliest pterosaur with the diagnostic elongate metacarpus of the Pterodactyloidea, Kryptodrakon progenitor, gen. et sp. nov., from the terrestrial Middle-Upper Jurassic boundary of Northwest China. Phylogenetic analysis confirms this species as the basalmost pterodactyloid and reconstructs a terrestrial origin and a predominantly terrestrial history for the Pterodactyloidea. Phylogenetic comparative methods support this reconstruction by means of a significant correlation between wing shape and environment also found in modern flying vertebrates, indicating that pterosaurs lived in or were at least adapted to the environments in which they were preserved.