New species of pterosaurs discovered in sub-Saharan Africa

With wings spanning almost 16 feet, a new species of pterosaurs has been identified on the Atlantic coast of Angola.

An international team, including two vertebrate paleontologists from SMU, named the new genus and species Epapatelo otyikokolo. This dinosaur-age flying reptile was found in the same region of Angola as fossils of large marine animals currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Pterosaur fossils that date back to the Late Cretaceous are extremely rare in sub-Saharan Africa, said team member Michael J. Polcyn, a research associate in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and senior ISEM investigator at the SMU (Southern Methodist University).

“This new discovery gives us a much better understanding of the ecological role of the creatures that flew above the waves of Bentiaba, on the west coast of Africa, around 71.5 million years ago,” Polcyn said. .

Renowned paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, SMU’s emeritus professor of earth sciences and president of ISEM, an interdisciplinary institute at the university, also collaborated on the research. The team’s findings were published in the journal Diversity.

Epapatelo otyikokolo It is believed to have been a fish-eating pterosaur that behaved similarly to large modern seabirds.

“They likely spent time flying over open water environments and diving for food, as gannets and brown pelicans do today,” Jacobs said. “Epapatelo otyikokolo was not a small animal, and its wingspan was about 4.8 m, or nearly 16 feet.”

But fossils discovered since the study suggest that some of the newly identified pterosaur species could have been even larger creatures, Polcyn said. Pterosaurs were impressive creatures, with some of the largest species having wingspans of nearly 35 feet.

The genus name “Epapatelo” is the translation of the Angolan dialect word Nhaneca which means “wing”, and the species name “otyikokolo” is the translation of “lizard”. The Nhaneca or Nyaneka people are an indigenous group from the Angolan province of Namibe, the region where the fossils were found.

The lead author of the study was Alexandra E. Fernandes, from the Museu da Lourinhã, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa and The Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology. Other co-authors include Octávio Mateus of Universidade NOVA de Lisboa and Museu da Lourinhã; Brian Andres from the University of Sheffield; Anne S. Schulp of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Utrecht University in the Netherlands; and Antonio Olímpio Gonçalves from the Universidade Agostinho Neto in Angola.

Jacobs and Polcyn forged the Projecto PaleoAngola partnership with collaborators in Angola, Portugal and the Netherlands to explore and excavate Angola’s rich fossil history, and began laying the groundwork for the return of fossils to the nation west. -African. Back in Dallas, Jacobs, Polcyn and research associate Diana Vineyard worked for 13 years with a small army of SMU students preparing the fossils excavated by Projecto PaleoAngola.

This international team discovered and collected the fourteen bones of Epapatelo otyikokolo in Bentiaba, Angola, from 2005. Bentiaba is located on a section of the Angolan coast that Jacobs called a “museum in the ground” because many fossils have been found there in the rocks.

Many of these fossils are currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s “Sea Monsters Discovered” exhibit, which was co-produced with SMU. It features large marine reptiles from the Cretaceous period – mosasaurs, turtles and plesiosaurs.

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