Before the asteroid slammed into Earth, wiping out a healthy chunk of the life that walked across its surface, the skies would have been filled with soaring giants. Researchers have identified two new fossils of these flying reptiles, one of which would have rivaled a plane in size and another more dinky one measuring up to a truck.
Discovered in 2005 and 2008 in the deserts of Jordan, the two new animals would have dwarfed most other pterosaurs as they glided across the Maastrichtian landscape. The massive new fossils are yet to be described formally in a journal, but have recently been presented at the 2017 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting that took place in Calgary, report Live Science.
It is not only the size of the beasts that the researchers are excited about. Due to the fragile nature of pterosaur bones, which despite their giant size still had to be hollow, fossils are often flattened and crushed from the extreme pressure they experience during the fossilization process. Crucially, these new fossils are in three dimensions.
“Since these bones retain their original shape, they can tell us a lot about how pterosaurs functioned,” researcher Kierstin Rosenbach told Live Science. “We're going to study these fossils to understand more about internal bone structure and how it relates to things like body mass, flight capabilities and the pterosaur respiratory system.”
The two new fossils likely belong to animals that are members of the giant pterosaur group known as the Azhdarchidae. These creatures include the largest animals to have ever taken to the air. One of the biggest and thus most well know, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, is thought to have had an astonishing wing span of at least 10.4 meters (34 feet), which is longer than a London bus.
These animals were superbly adapted to flight, particularly over long distances. Despite this, however, experts think that these enormous pterosaurs may have spent a large amount of their time stalking on all fours on solid land. The modern-day picture of these beasts is less like a sea bird, catching fish on the wing, and more like a marabou stork, striding through grasslands and picking off prey that are flushed out by their massive size.
It is hoped that the new fossils will help the researchers build a better picture of what the environment and ecology of Afro-Arabia was like just before the asteroid hit, some 66 million years ago.
[H/T: Live Science]