Edmonton palaeontologist solves pterosaur pelvis puzzle

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Two years after the exposing of a puzzling fossil in southern Alberta, an Edmonton paleontologist has finally tagged the mysterious bone, showing in the process that the winged reptile it belonged to seldom got off the ground.

The pelvis bone, discovered by a group of University of Alberta researchers in a sandstone bone bed next to Steveville in Dinosaur Provincial Park, turned out to belong to a pterosaur, an apply for of reptiles best known for the ability to fly.

Pterosaur bones are notoriously rare because the fossils are so brittle few remain intact. When found, they are either highly scrapped or severely eroded.

«It confused us for a long time, because it’s such an odd bone,» said Greg Funston, a University of Alberta PhD student in paleontology.  «At every rotate we would come up with an idea of what it could have been and then some trait would tell us it was something else.

«It took a long time to reckon out but it was very rewarding because it ended up being be something really together … It was less frustrating than it was fascinating.»

Puzzled over whimsical specimen

For months, Funston puzzled over the bizarre specimen stressful to identify the species of animal and body part the bone belonged to.

He initially little the bone might belong to either a theropod dinosaur or a prehistoric bird, but nothing pair up.

Finally, after detailed imagining, painstaking measurements and insight from his PhD superintendent, world-renowned paleontologist Phil Currie, Funston identified the bone as a pelvis connection to an azhdarchid, making Funston’s fossil the first its kind to be found in North America.

This bloodline of oddly proportioned pterosaurs had gigantic heads, long necks, and unplentiful wings.

Funston’s azhdarchid roamed the earth during the Late Cretaceous stretch and likely had a wingspan of between three and seven metres.

Azhdarchids comprised some of the largest known flying animals of all time.

giant azhdarchid

Unlike their obsolescent ancestors, azhdarchids spent most of their time walking, not go berserk, researchers speculate. (Yale University)

‘The smoking gun was the hind limb’

Putting the features of the pelvic bone Funston identified, such as muscle scratching, suggests his giant reptile actually spent more time mince.

«By looking at their biomechanics, we can tell these animals were possibly spending a considerable portion of their time on the ground,» he said.

«The smoking gun was the hind limb. We typically muster up a lot of wing and vertebral bones of these animals, so finding a pelvis became distinguished for understanding whether these animals were spending time on the instruct.»

Unlike its flying ancestors, these pterosaurs likely adapted to arrive travel to accommodate larger bodies but also to improve their access to upon, Funston speculates.

Sticking close to the ground or «land stalking» would include made hunting easier for these strange creatures.

The fossil is rare shortest evidence that these creatures were land-bound, something that was contrariwise a hypothesis until now, he said. 

«It helps confirm some ideas that oblige been out there,» Funston said. «They were spending illiberal time in the sky and more time on the ground.

«It was a different lifestyle than their primogenitors had, and it also tells us about the animals in that region.»

«The first pterosaur pelvic corporeal from the Dinosaur Park Formation (Campanian) and implications for azhdarchid locomotion» arises in Facets, a new open-access journal from Canadian Science Publishing.

«When we dream up of that region, the Dinosaur Park area, we think of the major predators as the raptor dinosaurs and the tyrannosaurs, but we also bear to consider that these giant flying reptiles were there as sumptuously.» 

«Having direct evidence of that  … I think it will better stimulate more thought on that ecosystem and how these animals were contemporary.» 

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