This 77-Million-Year-Old Dwarf Pterosaur Was The Same Size As A Cat

A domestic cat stares down the newly discovered pterosaur. Mark Witton

Robin Andrews 31 Aug 2016, 00:01

Around 77 million years ago, this pterosaur lived in a coastal environment populated by a diverse range of creatures living in or around multiple islands. Although it’s purely speculative at this point, the researchers think that it fed by skimming along the water and catching aquatic prey, or perhaps by feeding on smaller terrestrial creatures. It would likely have coexisted with some of the earliest birds.

This dwarf may not have been the smallest pterosaur of all time, but it certainly stands out as being initially unusual for the Late Cretaceous, where the average wingspan size was a couple of meters greater. The largest back then resembled furry, winged, carnivorous giraffes.

It’s not surprising that it took paleontologists this long to find a specimen of such a small Cretaceous-age pterosaur. The fossil bed it was found in is heavily biased towards preserving larger beasts. Pterosaurs, with their hollow bones, are poorly preserved here, so it’s incredibly lucky this small monster was found back in 2009.

“This discovery points to the fact that we really understand pterosaur diversity – and of course, just because we know of bigger ones, doesn’t mean we don’t have small ones too,” Martin-Silverstone added.

At present, this pterosaur doesn’t have a scientific name, as there aren’t enough well-preserved remains to make an official declaration. The hunt is on for any additional specimens that may still be hiding in the ancient North American soil.

A group of gigantic, nightmarish Quetzalcoatlus, pterosaurs belonging to the same family as the newly found specimen, feeding on small dinosaurs. Mark Witton and Darren Naish/Wikimedia Commons; CC-BY 3.0

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