Thursday, 16 April 2015

Azhdarchid Pterosaur cervical vertebra from the Late Cretaceous of the Haţeg Basin in Transylvania.


Azhdarchids were long-necked, toothless Pterosaurs, which came to dominate Pterosaur assemblages in the Late Creataceous. They were large animals, often with wingspans in excess of 10 m, and appear to have favoured fully terrestrial environments (unlike many earlier Pterosaurs which lived in coastal environments).

In a paper published in the American Museum Novitates on 17 March 2015, Mátyás Vremir of the Department of Natural Sciences of the Transylvanian Museum Society, Mark Witton of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, Darren Naish of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, Gareth Dyke, also of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, and of the Lendület Behavioural Ecology Research Group at the University of Debrecen, Stephern Brusatte of the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, Mark Norrel of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and Radu Totoianu of the Ioan Raica Municipal Museum, describe a mid-neck cervical vertebra from an unknown Azhdarchid Pterosaur from Bărbat Formation at Pui in Transylvania, part of the distinctive End-Cretaceous fauna of the Haţeg Basin.

The specimen is an almost complete cervical vertebra, slightly crushes at its posterior end and lacking a condyle. It is 89 mm in length, but was probably about 97-100 mm long when complete.

(Left) Photographs of LPV (FGGUB) R.2395, an almost complete cervical four from Pui, Haţeg basin, in anterior (A), dorsal (B), posterior (C), lateral (D), left lateral, inverted, (E) and right lateral (F) views. (Right) Interpretative drawing in anterior (A), ventral (B), dorsal (C), and right (D) and left lateral (E) views. Abbreviations: Cot, cotyla; DPrezygT, dorsal prezygapophyseal tubercle; Hyp, hypapophysis; Intzyg, interzygapophyseal area/space; NS, neural spine; Prezyg, prezygapophysis; Trab, trabecula; VPrezygT, ventral prezygapophyseal tubercle. Vremir et al. (2015).

The cervical vertebrae of Azhdarchid Pterosaurs are morphologically distinct; it is possible to identify the position of a vertebra from the neck of one of these animals by its shape. The specimen does not appear to have come from any previously described species, but by comparison to other members of the group feel that it is most likely to be the fourth vertebra (counting backwards from the skull).

While Vremir et al. believe the specimen to come from a previously described species of Pterosaur, they refrain from describing it as a new species due to the fragmentary nature of the material. It appears to have belonged to an individual smaller than any previously described species from the Haţeg Basin, with a shorter and stouter neck (which would have enabled it to take different prey). However it is also apparently from a young animal, and young Azhdarchid Pterosaurs are known to have had shorter necks than mature adults (unlike Birds, Pterosaurs took several years to reach maturity, and were capable of flying long before they reached their full size), and the fourth vertebra is not known in many Azhdarchid species, making direct comparison to other specimens difficult.

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