Unearthed Toothless Pterosaur Jaw Belongs To Species Previously Unknown To The UK

Wightia declivirostris, the latest member of tapejarid family, seen flying over an oxbow lake in the valley of the ancient Wessex River that flowed from Devon to the Isle of Wight, UK. Megan Jacobs

Katy Pallister 29 May 2020, 19:38

Most commonly found in Brazil and China, Tapejaridae are a family of flying pterosaurs that lived during the Cretaceous period. However, for the first time, a member of this family has been uncovered a long way from its cousins in the UK.

A small fragment of jaw bone was unearthed by a dog-walker in Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight, England. This toothless fossil was passed on to researchers at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who narrowed its origins down to a rather bizarre pterosaur family, never before seen in the country.

“Although only a fragment of jaw, it has all the characteristic of a tapejarid jaw, including numerous tiny little holes that held minute sensory organs for detecting their food, and a downturned, finely pointed beak,” Megan Jacobs, a Paleontology student at the University of Portsmouth, said in a statement.

Outside of Brazil and China, tapejarid remains are “exceedingly rare,” and “highly fragmentary.” The new specimen, dubbed Wightia declivirostris, joins only a handful of other tapejarid fossils found in Europe, including in Spain. Last year, a team from the University of Portsmouth also discovered a similar specimen in Morocco, known as Afrotapejara, which extended the geography of this dinosaur.

A section of the jaw bone fossil found on the Isle of Wight. University of Portsmouth

Although the UK fossil’s slender shape renders it distinct from previous samples, comparisons with other remains revealed to the researchers that their example was more closely related to the Chinese tapejarids, rather than the Brazilian ones. These other near-complete skeletons and 3D-preserved examples can give a greater insight into the family’s looks.

"Complete examples from Brazil and China show that they had large head crests, with the crest sometime being twice as big as the skull,” Jacobs explained. “The crests were probably used in sexual display and may have been brightly coloured."

Jacobs and her colleagues' findings, detailed in Cretaceous Research, also reference the incredible fossil beds of the Isle of Wight, where the specimen was found.

“This new species adds to the diversity of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles found on the Island, which is now one of the most important places for Cretaceous dinosaurs in the world,” Professor David Martill, study co-author from the University of Portsmouth, said.

The fossil has been donated to a local dinosaur museum, where it will hopefully be on proud display in the future.

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