Pterosaurs may as well have been made of paper. Their bones were so light and delicate that at times even looking at them feels like it might crush them. The discovery of any pterosaur remains, then, is at least a minor cause for celebration, with a snaggletoothed jaw from northeastern China being the latest to make its debut.
The nearly-complete jaws, found in the 120-million-year-old rock of the Jiufotang Formation, have been named as a new pterosaur by paleontologist Lü Junchang and colleagues. What the entire animal looked like isn't yet known - so far, there's only a jaw - but the researchers argue that the long jaws fitted with 36 curved teeth represents something not seen before. They've named the animal Pangupterus liui.
So what did Pangupterus snatch up with those teeth? That's difficult to say. Gut contents, fossil feces called coprolites, and similar lines of evidence are what paleontologists rely on to determine ancient diets. The authors of the new paper propose a menu of fish - a fitting diet for an animal with slender, piercing teeth - but we'll have to wait on the fossil record for confirmation. Hopefully there's a Pangupterus fossil out there with its last meal intact.
Name: Pangupterus liui
Meaning: Pangupterus is a combination of Pangu, the creator of the universe in some Chinese myths, and the Greek word for wing. The species name liui refers to Jun Liu, who made the specimen available for study.
Age: Cretaceous, around 120 million years old.
Where in the world?: Liaoning Province, northeastern China.
What sort of critter?: A pterosaur.
Size: Not estimated.
How much of the creature’s body is known?: The lower jaws.
Lü, J., Cunyu, L., Lijun, P., Caizhi, S. 2016. A new pterodactyloid pterosaur from the Early Cretaceous of the western part of Liaoning Province, northeastern China. Acta Geologica Sinica. doi:
Previous Paleo Profiles:
The Light-Footed Lizard
The Maoming Cat
Knight’s Egyptian Bat
The La Luna Snake
The Rio do Rasto Tooth
Bob Weir's Otter
Egypt's Canine Beast
The Vastan Mine Tapir