A skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland illuminates an earlier origin of large pterosaurs

Natalia Jagielska*, Michael O'Sullivan, Gregory Funston, Ian Butler, Tom Challands, Neil D. L. Clark, Nick Fraser, Amelia Penny, Dugald A. Ross, Mark Wilkinson, Steve Brusatte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve flight1,2 and include the largest flying animals in Earth history.3,4 While some of the last-surviving species were the size of airplanes, pterosaurs were long thought to be restricted to small body sizes (wingspans ca. <1.8–1.6 m) from their Triassic origins through the Jurassic, before increasing in size when derived long-skulled and short-tailed pterodactyloids lived alongside a diversity of birds in the Cretaceous.5 We report a new spectacularly preserved three-dimensional skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland, which we assign to a new genus and species: Dearc sgiathanach gen. et sp. nov. Its wingspan is estimated at >2.5 m, and bone histology shows it was a juvenile-subadult still actively growing when it died, making it the largest known Jurassic pterosaur represented by a well-preserved skeleton. A review of fragmentary specimens from the Middle Jurassic of England demonstrates that a diversity of pterosaurs was capable of reaching larger sizes at this time but have hitherto been concealed by a poor fossil record. Phylogenetic analysis places D. sgiathanach in a clade of basal long-tailed non-monofenestratan pterosaurs, in a subclade of larger-bodied species (Angustinaripterini) with elongate skulls convergent in some aspects with pterodactyloids.6 Far from a static prologue to the Cretaceous, the Middle Jurassic was a key interval in pterosaur evolution, in which some non-pterodactyloids diversified and experimented with larger sizes, concurrent with or perhaps earlier than the origin of birds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1446-1453.e4
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume32
Issue number6
Early online date22 Feb 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2022

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