Scientists have discovered a new species of pterosaur – an extinct group of flying reptiles – from the early Jurassic period in the Patagonia region of South America.
The cranial remains were in an excellent state of preservation, said the researchers who have named this new species ‘Allkauren koi’ from the native Tehuelche word ‘all’ for ‘brain’, and ‘karuen’ for ‘ancient’.
Pterosaurs had an extraordinary adaptation to flight, including pneumatic bones to lighten their weight, and an elongated digit supporting a wing membrane.
However, pterosaur neuroanatomy is known from only a few three dimensionally preserved remains and, until now, there was no information on the intermediate forms.
This study, published in the journal PeerJ, therefore provides new information on the origin, tempo and mode of evolution in this particular group of flying reptiles.
“Allkaruen, from the middle lower Jurassic limit, shows an intermediate state in the brain evolution of pterosaurs and their adaptations to the aerial environment,” said one of the researchers Diego Pol from the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio in Trelew city, Argentina.
“As a result, this research makes an important contribution to the understanding of the evolution of all pterosaurs,” Pol noted.
The fossil of Allkaruen koi was found in northern central Chubut Province in Argentina and the remains included a superbly preserved and uncrushed braincase.
In order to study the neurocranial anatomy, the researchers used computed tomography to observe, in three dimensions, the cranial endocast and the inner ear.
Subsequently, a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of the group was performed, including these cranial data and other anatomical features.