New Ancestral Pterosaur Species Couldn’t Fly

Flying dinosaurs almost sound like an oxymoron. Monster Reptiles seem like the last thing that can fly, but they started from something small and earthly.

You probably wouldn’t have wanted to be there when a barrage of pterosaurs offensive the dinosaur theme park jurassic world, but without these winged reptiles, birds might never have existed. But how did the dinosaurs take off? Now that the earliest pterosaur ancestor has been unearthed and what was thought to be a true pterosaur has turned out to be a later ancestor, these Triassic creatures might be telling us something 225 million years later.

maehary bonaparte is the small dinosaur that is now the oldest relative of what later evolved into pterosaurs. Faxinalipterus minimus, one of its successors, was previously believed to be a pterosaur, but was another phase on the evolutionary path of dinosaur wings. Paleontologist Rodrigo Müller, who recently co-authored a study published in PeerJ, was part of the team that discovered one species and realized what the other really was. Müller saw that Faxinalipterus was not exactly the pterosaur it almost appeared to be.

“The anatomy of Faxinalipterus is not so similar to that of pterosaurs, but they bear long, hollow bones with a thin cortex, like pterosaurs.” he said SYFY WIRE. “However, there was an absence of features on the forelimb that are commonly associated with the ability to fly.”

Faxlinapterus was revealed by its forelimbs, which lacked the features necessary for flight. Although neither he nor Maehary could fly, Maehary’s specimen showed it to be a closer relative of the pterosaur through other aspects of its morphology. Some of the first noticed similarities were in an unlikely place – his mouth. Like its flying successors, it had no serrated teeth and some jaw features matched. What its lower jaw lacked was the characteristic beak-like tip of pterosaurs. It also had smaller nostrils (nostrils) than a pterosaur would have. The areas where his pectoral muscles would have been were not sufficiently developed for flight.

Pterosaurs had to start somewhere. In the same way that early humans were nothing like Homo sapiens, the earthly ancestors of the dinosaurs who would eventually fight had only partially developed the machinery that would later make their kin soar. Faxlinapterus may not have been able to fly, but it had light, hollow bones similar to pterosaurs and the proto-birds that evolved from them. It is believed that Maehary also had this type of bone structure, although no long bones of the species have yet been found.

“Faxinalipterus is a member of a lineage closely related to pterosaurs, however, it is not a direct ancestor of pterosaurs,” Müller said. Maehary nests in the evolutionary branch that culminates in the origin of pterosaurs. Their teeth seem to be an ancestral condition of some pterosaurs.

Maehary had grooved, needle-like teeth, similar to those giant pterosaurs used to grab prey (and screaming humans in Jurassic World) from below. Although pterosaurs and proto-birds like Archeopteryx evolved alone without a common ancestor, they are still related, although coelurosaurian dinosaurs were in fact the closest prehistoric relatives of birds. Müller thinks that one of the environmental pressures that could have led to the evolution of the wings may have been the need to forage for food somewhere other than the predator-infested forests in which they lived.

“They were surrounded by early dinosaurs and crocodile relatives, and rivaled mammalian ancestors and small lizard-like creatures,” he said. “Pterosaur ancestors and relatives may have explored new niches, climbing trees to eat prey or avoid predators.”

The closest known living relatives of dinosaurs are birds. If you stare at one for too long, you might think the remains of a dinosaur are staring at you.

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