Fossil find: New Pterosaur found near Dinosaur National Monument
April 25, 2016
There's more reason to make the voyage toward Vernal, Utah — and to be glad you weren't doing so 210 million years ago.
At a cliffside, first unearthed in 2009 on BLM land just outside Dinosaur National Monument, paleontologists recently discovered the remains of a new pterosaur, the largest flying reptile of its time. Found in an ancient lake shoreline, the carnivore lived some 210 million years ago and was known for its powerful teeth and jaws.
"If you saw one of these things coming at you with its jaws open, it would freak you out," Brigham Young University paleontologist Brooks Britt told experts of the discovery.
In all, more than 12,000 bones and eight different animals have been identified at the "Saints and Sinners" site, including a reptile with a head like a bird, arms like a mole and a clawed tail called a drepanosaur; small crocodile-like creatures called sphenosuchians; and two carnivorous dinosaurs, one related to the coelophysis.
But the new, yet-to-be-named pterosaur, found by a college student in a block of sandstone, is the most important discovery, bridging the fossil record between earlier, smaller pterosaurs and more recent, larger ones. With an intact skull and wing bone, it's the first known Triassic pterosaur found in North America, other than Greenland.
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"It's a huge, milestone discovery of great scientific importance," says Dinosaur Monument paleontologist Dan Chure. "Finding a pterosaur of any kind is a remarkable occurrence, let alone one whose remains have been preserved so well. It's only the second one from the Triassic ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere."
The reptile's skeleton, he adds, is "absurdly thin and built for flight, so finding any pieces of it extremely difficult."
With a 6-foot wingspan — big, Chure says, for the Triassic period — the aerial predator's lower jaw was ringed with two fangs and 28 teeth on each side, for swooping down and eating small, crocodile-like prey.
"There's no doubt that this is the greatest discovery of our careers by far," Chure says of his team's more than 100 years of combined paleontology experience. "And the site keeps serving up more and more surprises. It's simply an amazing find."