Fossil hunters have discovered the UK’s first pterodactyl. This family of dinosaurs is more commonly found in China or Brazil.
A fragment of the fossilized skeleton was discovered by a fossil hunter while out walking his dog in Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight. Unsure as to what exactly he had found, he passed the fragment over to Megan Jacobs of the University of Portsmouth Palaeontology department. Jacobs suspected it was a pterodactyl jaw — further research proved her right.
“Although only a fragment of jaw, it has all the characteristics of a tapejarid jaw, including numerous tiny little holes that held minute sensory organs for detecting their food, and a downturned, finely pointed beak,” says Megan Jacobs.
“The crests were probably used in sexual display and may have been brightly colored.”
These dinosaurs are known from specimens recovered in China and Brazil and had never been found in the UK before. Tapejarids are on the smaller size as far as pterodactyl breeds go, although they do have a host of other distinguishable traits. Most have a bony crest on their snout, which supported an even larger crest of soft tissue in some species extending all the way across the skull.
Tapejarids also have a large, distinctive nasa antorbital fenestra, the opening in the skull birds show between their nose and their small, pear-shaped eye sockets. Judging from the ratios of their braincases, tapejarids likely had excellent sight and probably relied heavily on it for hunting, more-so than other pterosaur groups.
Finally, tapejarids had wings that protruded from nearer the belly than near the back due to shoulder girdles of smaller size compared to those of other pterosaurs.
The UK fossil lacked teeth, but was very similar in appearance and structures to tapejarid jawbones. The authors describing the finding christened it Wightia declivirostris, and explain that it’s likely more closely related to Chinese tapejarids than the Brazilian ones.
The finder donated the fossil to the Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown, so that it might go on display in the future.
The paper “First tapejarid pterosaur from the Wessex Formation (Wealden Group: Lower Cretaceous, Barremian) of the United Kingdom” has been published in the journal Cretaceous Research.