The remains of a specific type of pterosaur or “winged lizard” has been found for the first time ever in the Southern Hemisphere. The fossil belonged to a rhamphorhynchine pterosaur that lived about 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
The fossil was unearthed back in 2009 by Osvaldo Rojas, the director of the Atacama Desert Museum of Natural History and Culture. However, it has only recently been identified by scientists at the University of Chile and confirmed as being the first of its kind to have ever been discovered in the prehistoric supercontinent of Gondwana.
The fact that this species was only previously discovered in the north seems to indicate that it migrated between the hemispheres. “There are pterosaurs of this group also in Cuba, which apparently were coastal animals, so most likely they have migrated between the North and the South or maybe they came once and stayed, we don't know,” explained Jhonatan Alarcon from the University of Chile, adding, “We show that the distribution of animals in this group was wider than known to date.”
The rhamphorhynchine pterosaur had a 2-meter-wide wingspan (6.6 feet); a pointed snout; sharp teeth that pointed outwards; and a long pointy tail.
In addition to being the first rhamphorhynchine pterosaur that’s ever been found in the Southern Hemisphere, it is also “the oldest known pterosaur found in Chile” as described by the scientists in their study that was published in the scientific journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.
A picture of the rhamphorhynchine fossil can be seen here.
Pterosaurs were pretty interesting creatures. While they are not considered a dinosaur, they were closely related. During their 150-million-year journey on Earth, there were over 150 different pterosaur species flying around.
While there are different theories as to how pterosaurs moved from land to the sky, one computer model by Michael Habib from Chatham University seems quite possible as he theorized that the reptiles took off “...with an explosive jump into the air” and “Then, they put out their wings and could generate enough lift with one downstroke to take off,” as explained by Mark A. Norell, chair of the American Museum of Natural History’s division of paleontology. And while they were on land, it is believed that they walked on four legs.
Pterosaurs are known to be huge flying reptiles such as the Quetzalcoatlus northropi which had a wingspan of 33 feet (10 meters); however, they weren’t all large as many of their wingspans measured approximately 6 feet across (1.8 meters). And there were tiny pterosaurs like the Nemicolopterus crypticus which had a wingspan of just 10 inches.