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New Texas Pterosaur Is Remarkably Similar To English Cousins, Say Researchers [VIDEO]

Dec 09, 2015 04:38 PM EST
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A newly discovered toothy pterosaur may be a Texas native, but it is remarkably similar to its English relatives, researchers from Southern Methodist University (SMU) reveal in a new study.

Similarities between this new 94-million-year-old flying reptile, called Cimoliopterus dunni, and the already-known Cimoliopterus cuvieri in England suggests a link between the two places. That is, it seems that the animals were able to move between the two continents during the early Cretaceous, even though the North Atlantic Ocean was progressively widening at this time, according to a news release.

"The Atlantic opened the supercontinent Pangea like a zipper, separating continents and leaving animal populations isolated, so gene flow ceased and we start to see evolutionary divergence," Timothy S. Myers, a paleontologist from SMU, explained in the release.  "Animals start to look different and you see different species on one continent versus another. Pterosaurs are a little trickier because unlike land animals they can fly and disperse across bodies of water. The later ones are pretty good flyers."

Fossil evidence indicates the Texas and English Cimoliopterus cousins evolved independently some 94 million years ago, but gene flow remained continuous up to that date, which explains why the two species exhibit many similar attributes. (Scroll to read more...)

"The new Texas native, Cimoliopterus dunni, is only the third pterosaur species with teeth from the Cretaceous of North America. All three of the toothy Cretaceous-era pterosaurs discovered so far from North America are Texans. Nevertheless, Cimoliopterus dunni is most closely related to England's Cimoliopterus cuvieri," Myers said in the release.

Furthermore, their findings shed light on the evolution of pterosaurs.

"Pterosaurs don't necessarily need land bridges to disperse because they can cross marine barriers between emergent landmasses, effectively 'island hopping' from one continental mass to another," Myers added in SMU's news release.  "There are toothed pteranodontoids in South America -- lots of individuals and lots of different species -- but no close relatives to the toothed pteranodontoids in North America. That might indicate there was some barrier to dispersal from the south. It's unusual we don't see a connection between these pterosaur populations. Maybe we will when we find more of this material."

Pterosaurs were a group of prehistoric flying reptiles that live alongside dinosaurs for many years. They are the earliest known vertebrates with the ability to steadily flap their wings enough to power flying. The only evidence of the toothed members in North America comes from Texas, and most pterosaurs evolved without teeth by the end of the Cretaceous.

Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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