A new genus and species of pterosaur has been identified from the fossilized material found in the Kilmaluag Formation of the Isle of Skye, Scotland.
“The earliest known pterosaur fossils come from the Late Triassic, but the group persisted until the end-Cretaceous extinction,” said Professor Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum, London and colleagues.
“Pterosaurs are known from every continent and experienced two large peaks in species-richness: in the Early-Middle Cretaceous and latest Cretaceous.”
“However, their distribution is highly affected by the ‘Lagerstätten effect’ and other forms of sampling bias.”
“Almost all of our knowledge of pterosaur evolutionary history is based on material from a handful of sites with restricted spatiotemporal coverage.”
The newly-discovered species lived in what is now Scotland between 168 and 166 million years ago (Middle Jurassic).
Named Ceoptera evansae, it is the first pterosaur to be named from Scotland and the most complete pterosaur to be found in the UK since Mary Anning discovered Dimorphodon macronyx in the early 1800s.
The flying reptile’s remains consist of a three-dimensionally preserved partial skeleton, including parts of the shoulders, wings, legs and backbone.
Many of the bones remain completely embedded in rock and can only be studied using CT-scanning.
“Ceoptera evansae is part of the pterosaur clade Darwinoptera,” the paleontologists said.
“Its discovery shows that the clade was considerably more diverse than previously thought, and persisted for more than 25 million years, from the late Early Jurassic to the latest Jurassic.”
The discovery also shows that all principal Jurassic pterosaur clades evolved well before the end of the Early Jurassic, earlier than previously realised.
“Ceoptera evansae helps to narrow down the timing of several major events in the evolution of flying reptiles,” Professor Barrett said.
“Its appearance in the Middle Jurassic of the UK was a complete surprise, as most of its close relatives are from China.”
“It shows that the advanced group of flying reptiles to which it belongs appeared earlier than we thought and quickly gained an almost worldwide distribution.”
“The time period that Ceoptera evansae is from is one of the most important periods of pterosaur evolution, and is also one in which we have some of the fewest specimens, indicating its significance,” said Dr. Liz Martin-Silverstone, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol.
“To find that there were more bones embedded within the rock, some of which were integral in identifying what kind of pterosaur Ceoptera evansae is, made this an even better find than initially thought.”
“It brings us one step closer to understanding where and when the more advanced pterosaurs evolved.”
Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone et al. 2024. A new pterosaur from the Middle Jurassic of Skye, Scotland and the early diversification of flying reptiles. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, in press;