Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Massive Fossilized Pterosaur Colony 'Most Important Ever Found'

Illustration for article titled Massive Fossilized Pterosaur Colony Most Important Ever Found

Well-preserved fossils of pterosaurs are extremely hard to come by, which makes this recent find of 40 male and female individuals all the more incredible. Along with the discovery of a spectacular new crested species, paleontologists have also found the first 3-dimensional fossilized pterosaur eggs.

Advertisement

Say hello to Hamipterus tianshanensis, a newly documented species of pterosaur that lived 120 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Period in what is now China. The 3D eggs were found among dozens — possibly hundreds — of pterosaur fossils, an indication that they were a highly social species living together in bustling, gregarious colonies.

Illustration for article titled Massive Fossilized Pterosaur Colony Most Important Ever Found
Advertisement

Hamipterus was a medium-sized pterosaur featuring wingspans up to 11.5 feet (3.5 m). They belonged to a group of pterosaurs called the pteranodontoids, which includes the toothless Pteranodon. Hamipterus was likely an excellent flier, primarily feeding on fish by snatching them from the surface of the water; the fossils exhibited a series of long teeth in the thin jaws.

Illustration for article titled Massive Fossilized Pterosaur Colony Most Important Ever Found

Sediments in the area indicate that the pterosaurs died in a large storm.

Fascinatingly, Hamipterus featured a bony crest that ran along the top of the skull, one that varied in size, shape, and robustness among the individual specimens found. Pterosaurs are known for their crests, but paleontologists aren't entirely sure of their function. The going theory is that they were ornamental — a peacock-like display meant to attract mates. They may have also been used as a signal of social dominance, much like horns on various extant animals. In Hamipterus, the different sizes may represent males and females, with the males having the larger crest.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled Massive Fossilized Pterosaur Colony Most Important Ever Found

Until now, only four pterosaur eggs had ever been found, all of them flattened. Analysis of the fossils suggest they were pliable, with a thin calcareous eggshell outside and a soft, thick membrane inside (similar to the eggs of some modern-day snakes). The layout of the eggs and pterosaur remains suggest the presence of a nesting site nearby; Hamipterus were likely quite social. They most likely buried their eggs in sand along the shore of an ancient lake to prevent them from drying out.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled Massive Fossilized Pterosaur Colony Most Important Ever Found

Read the entire study at Current Biology: "Sexually Dimorphic Tridimensionally Preserved Pterosaurs and Their Eggs from China."

Advertisement

Image: Chuang Zhao/Xiaolin Want et. al/Current Biology.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

paleontologists have also found the first 3-dimensional fossilized pterosaur eggs.

Which is good, because the 1 and 2 dimensional eggs were impossible to interact with, and the 4-dimensional ones are just freaky weird.

;)