11 dinosaur feathers captured in amber

from Discovery News and Global and Mail, September 15, 2011, Alberta, Canada     Study to be published in Cretaceous Research this April

David Martill of England’s University of Portsmouth’s Palaeobiology Research Group and his colleague, David Unwin of University of Leicester puzzled out the significance of a fragmentary fossil from the collection of London’s Natural History Museum.

After examinations, the two scientists ascertained the import of their study:  they’d identified Coloborhynchus capito, the largest pterosaur (Greek, winged-lizard) yet known to exist.

“The first two teeth of each jaw projected forwards and may have been 3 inches long, and the two teeth behind it would have been a bit longer at 4 inches,” said co-author of the study, Martill.  “Together (the teeth) formed a sort of rosette that interlocked when the jaws were closed.”  He believes the teeth may have been used for catching fish or in “threatening displays.”

The toothy skull portion had been unearthed from the Cretaceous Cambridge Greensand of eastern England and had lived about 100,000,000 years ago during the Albian stage, when Cambridge was under the sea in a tropical climate.  Along with the large dinosaurs, the pterosaurs became extinct about 65,500,000 years ago.

Martill believes there might have been a low island to the south during the Albion stage, where London is found today.  Based on other fossil finds, the region was teaming with life—fish, ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, dinosaurs (including prehistoric birds) and different types of pterosaurs, among them Quetzalcoatlus, which had a wingspan of 32 feet.

Though fossilized skeletal remains indicated huge prehistoric creatures with wings, for quite some time scientists couldn’t figure out how anything that large could have flown.  A recent theory suggests that the big guys lifted off with wings closed, using their powerful arm and leg muscles to get themselves airborne before opening their wings.

Not quite “leapin’ lizards,” but certainly pole-vaulting lizards.

Pterosaurs were “cousins” to dinosaurs and have no modern-day descendants.  We’re pretty familiar with the dinosaurs’ descendants.  We daily see them flying or hopping or hear them warbling or quacking or honking or chirping.

In fact, this very day many of us may enjoy some Kentucky Fried Dino.


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