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Rare pterosaur discovered by BYU professor

BYU Photo Michael Skrepnick Nate Edwards/BYU Photo

PROVO — A Utah professor discovered an extremely rare fossil of a pterosaur, a prehistoric creature that lived at the same time as dinosaurs.

Brooks Britt, geological sciences professor at BYU, took large block samples from the Saints and Sinners Quarry in northeastern Utah, an area that has traditionally been so rich in fossils that instead of digging on site, Britt and his team take samples back to their labs to extricate any bones or other material.

In this case, Britt and a team of students started to excavate at the lab and felt confident they were going to find something. After discovering some irregular bones, they realized they had an intact and largely 3D fossil of a pterosaur. Usually, these fossils are scarce and very fragile.

According to Britt, this pterosaur dated back to when Utah was part of the super-continent Pangaea. 3D fossils of this creature are rare; typically, because they are found in harder soil, the bones become compacted so when the fossils are discovered, paleontologists have to figure out what the creature would look like in three dimensions. Britt says examples like this help scientists correct their understanding of how the winged reptile is structured and the range of motion it had.

He says usually pterosaurs are found where there is water, so to find it in a desert landscape is a new discovery. This shows these creatures were able to live in more diverse climates than originally thought according to the BYU professor.

Britt named the discovery Caelestiventis Hanseni. Along with this, Britt and his team were also able to recover five ancient crocodiles.

Britt says the fossils gives them “insight into the earliest age of dinosaurs.”

The remains are currently being examined and scanned for comparison to other samples.

“Utah is heaven on earth for dinosaurs,” Britt said.

Popularly known as pterodactyls, pterosaurs are not technically dinosaurs, but lived at the same time as the prehistoric lizards. Pterosaurs had wings that connected to their fingers, somewhat similar to the modern bat.