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Paleontologists have identified a new species of flying reptile that lived over 120 million years ago in northeastern China. Their findings have been published in Scientific Reports.
Pterosaurs represent the first group vertebrates to evolve powered flight. Though they are known to have existed across all the continents, their fossil record is poor and uneven. Interestingly, the Aptian Jiufotang Formation in northeastern China has uncovered more specimens in recent years than from any other region in the world.
Fossil analysis of two unique specimens found in this region reveals that the new species had elongated skulls and possible throat sacs, which could have allowed the reptile to forage for food by skimming over water and picking out prey near the surface.
“This pterosaur fed on fishes from nearby freshwater lakes by flying low over the water, capturing its prey by lowering the mandible in the water, being capable of a reduced and temporary skimming, and it had a more developed throat pouch for food,” exaplained lead author Professor *** Xiaolin, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a comment to Asian Scientist. “Its foraging habit increases the potential feeding modes of pterosaurs.”
The specimens were discovered in the same deposit as two other previously described pterosaur specimens. These had distinctly larger and more robust teeth, suggesting different feeding mechanisms—and prey preferences—across the three species. Though similar, the different reptiles could have occupied distinct ecological niches.
According to Prof. ***, perhaps the most interesting discovery is that these new pterosaurs have been seen before—on film. The science fiction movie Avatar featured flying creatures favoring similar, hook-like mandibular crests; these were known as ikran. This led the researchers to name the new pterosaur species Ikrandraco avatar.