Tuesday 6 May 2014

A fossil Pterosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning Province, China.

Among the many remarkable fossils of the Jehol Biota Lagerstätte of northeast China a number of well preserved Pterosaurs have been discovered. One of these, Feolongus youngi, from the Yixian Formation of western Liaoning Province, is thought to have been the first known Chinese Pterosaur to reach sizes in excess of a two meter wingspan; although this is somewhat speculative, based upon reconstruction of the animal from a partial skull.

In a paper published in the journal Acta Geologica Sinica in February 2014, Wang Xuri of the Institute of Geology at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Shen Caizhi and Gao Chunling of the Dalian Natural History Museum and Jin Kemo of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences describe a new partial Pterosaur skull from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of western Liaoning Province. 

The new specimen lacks either of the two key characteristics of Feolongus youngi; a sagittal cranial crest and an elongate, overhanging upper jaw; the crest is not preserved due to the absence of the sagittal region of the skull. Wang et al. dispute the value of either of these traits for diagnostic purposes. They reason that crests are often sexual display features, which may only be found in one sex of any given species. Wang et al. also question the validity of the overhanging jaw seen in the original specimen of Feolongus youngi, suggesting that it may instead be a taphonomic artifact (result of post-mortem events, rather than of the biology of the living animal) caused by crushing of the skeleton during preservation. 

Skull of Feolongus sp. from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of western Liaoning Province. Wang et al. (2014).

Wang et al. do not go as far as placing the new specimen in the same species as the original, since both are somewhat fragmentary and may share or lack common features on the rest of the skeleton, but do place it within the same genus as Feolongus sp.

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