Oldest Pterodactylus fossil found in Germany

The fossil, just described in a study in the journal Fossil Record, is about one million years older than other Pterodactylus specimens.

Pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the dinosaur era, originated in the Late Triassic (227 million years ago) and became extinct at the end-Cretaceous extinction event (66 million years ago). With wing spans ranging from 1 to 12 meters, they dominated the world’s skies for more than 160 million years.

The first described and named pterosaur – and namesake of the whole group – is Pterodactylus from the famous Solnhofen Limestone of Bavaria, southern Germany. Originally described in 1784 by the Italian naturalist Cosimo Alessandro Collini, the fossil was considered to be an aquatic animal for 25 years, before Georges Cuvier found out it was a flying reptile belonging to a new, previously unrecognized group.

The oldest specimen of this iconic pterosaur was recently found near Painten, a small town in the southern part of the Franconian Alb in central Bavaria. The fossil, described in a study in the journal Fossil Record, is about one million years older than other Pterodactylus specimens.

The specimen was unearthed in 2014 during excavations in an active limestone quarry. It took more than 120 hours of meticulous mechanical work using pneumatic tools and needles before the researchers could study it. The research team behind the discovery are Felix Augustin, Andreas Matzke, Panagiotis Kampouridis and Josephina Hartung from the University of Tübingen (Germany) and Raimund Albersdörfer from the Dinosaurier Museum Altmühltal (Germany).

“The rocks of the quarry, which yielded the new Pterodactylus specimen, consist of silicified limestone that has been dated to the upper Kimmeridgian stage (around 152 million years ago)”, explains Felix Augustin of the University of Tübingen, who is the lead author of the study. “Previously, Pterodactylus had only been found in younger rocks of southern Germany belonging to the Tithonian stage that follows after the Kimmeridgian”.

The specimen is a complete, well-preserved skeleton of a small-sized individual. “Only a very small portion of the left mandible as well as of the left and right tibia is missing. Otherwise, the skeleton is nearly perfectly preserved with every bone present and in its roughly correct anatomical position”, the researchers write in their study.

With a 5-cm-long skull, the Painten Pterodactylus represents a rare “sub-adult” individual. “Generally, the Pterodactylus specimens are not evenly distributed across the full size range but predominantly fall into distinct size-classes that are separated by marked gaps. The specimen from Painten is a rare representative of the first gap between the small and large sizes,” explains Augustin. “The Painten Pterodactylus was of an intermediate, and rarely found, ontogenetic age at the time of its death, between two consecutive year-classes.”

The Painten quarry has yielded many other “exquisitely preserved fossils”, including ichthyosaurs, turtles, marine and terrestrial crocodile-relatives, and dinosaurs.  Many of them, like this new pterosaur specimen, are on display in the new Dinosaurier Museum Altmühltal in Denkendorf (Bavaria, Germany).

Research article:

Augustin FJ, Kampouridis P, Hartung J, Albersdörfer R, Matzke AT (2022) The geologically oldest specimen of Pterodactylus: a new exquisitely preserved skeleton from the Upper Jurassic (Kimmeridgian) Plattenkalk deposits of Painten (Bavaria, Germany). Fossil Record 25(2): 331-343. https://doi.org/10.3897/fr.25.90692

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Jurassic Park in Eastern Morocco: Paleontology of the Kem Kem Group

The Kem Kem beds in Morocco are famous for the spectacular fossils found there, including at least four large-bodied non-avian theropods, several large-bodied pterosaurs and crocodilians. In their study, published in the open-access journal Zookeys, an international group of scientists, led by Dr. Nizar Ibrahim and Prof. Paul Sereno, evaluate the geological and paleontological significance of the study area.

The Kem Kem beds in Morocco are famous for the spectacular fossils found there, including at least four large-bodied non-avian theropods, several large-bodied pterosaurs and crocodilians.

Now, in a new geology and paleontology monograph, that reveals much more about the famous Kem Kem beds in Morocco, Dr. Nizar Ibrahim from the University of Detroit Mercy, Prof. Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago, and a team of international scholars from the United States, Europe and Morocco, have put together a comprehensive story that is published in the open-access journal Zookeys.

The aim of the new research is to provide the international community with an in-depth review of the rocks and fossils of the region. It reviews the geology and paleontology of this famous but surprisingly understudied area, describing and formally naming the strata and summarizing all of the preserved life forms, from fragile plants and insects to massive dinosaurs. The monograph also paints a picture of life as it once was some 95 million years ago by describing the paleoenvironments of the region, and the unusual predator-dominated fauna.

In 1996 Prof. Sereno and colleagues introduced the informal term “Kem Kem beds” for this fossil-rich escarpment. In this monograph, the authors review the original tri-level proposal for the region by French geologist Choubert (his informal “trilogie mésocretacée”) and propose the Kem Kem Group for the entire package of rock with two new names for the dinosaur-bearing layers based on the richest fossil sites, the Gara Sbaa and Douira formations.

The region is famous for the prodigious fossils found in all of these units, many derived from commercial fossil collecting, which obscures the precise location and level of the specimens. The monograph is the first work to pinpoint where many of the most important finds were made. Over the last 25 years in particular, paleontologists have brought to light a diverse array of new vertebrate fossils including at least four large-bodied non-avian theropods, several large-bodied pterosaurs, crocodilians, turtles and an array of sharks and bony fish.  

To put a comprehensive story together on the Kem Kem, the authors of the monograph visited collections of Kem Kem fossils around the world and led many expeditions to the region. Fossil and geological data reviewed in the monograph is derived from a number of different sources. A University of Chicago-led major expedition in 1995 generated a wealth of geological and paleontological data, as did later expeditions involving teams from the University College Dublin, the University of Portsmouth, the Faculté des Sciences Aïn Chock, the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, the University Cadi Ayyad, the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Milan), and the University of Detroit Mercy.

One of the key features of the Kem Kem assemblage is the presence of several large-bodied theropods, a group of dinosaurs that includes all of the meat-eaters. Most famous among these from the Kem Kem include the sail-backed Spinosaurus and the sabre-toothed Carcharodontosaurus.

Most fossils in the Kem Kem region are discovered as isolated fragmentary pieces weathered from sandstones. Only four partial dinosaur skeletons or skulls have been recovered, which include the long-necked sauropod Rebbachisaurus garasbae and the theropods Deltadromeus agilis, Carcharodontosaurus saharicus and Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. These Kem Kem theropods are among the largest known dinosaurian predators on record reaching adult body lengths in excess of 12 meters. 

“Given the continued input of new specimens and the continuing expansion of paleontological research, we predict that diversity in the Kem Kem Group will increase substantially in the coming decades. Based on our review of existing collections, this increase will include scores of taxa from the pond locality Oum Tkout including nonvertebrates, such as plants, insects, and ostracods, as well as an array of actinopterygian fish. We also anticipate a continuing trickle of new terrestrial vertebrates that will be named on better preserved specimens that are diagnostic at present only at the familial level, including turtles and various kinds of archosaurs. As nearly half of the reptilian families listed are indeterminate, better preserved specimens will offer future opportunities to recognize new reptilian genera” ,

share the authors.
Predators abound on land, in the air and in water some 95 million years on the shores of northern Africa —as shown by the abundant fossils in the Kem Kem region.
Large herbivores, such as the long-necked sauropod Rebbachisaurus, could have been hunted or scavenged by several large predators.
Credit: Artwork by Davide Bonadonna
License: CC-BY 4.0

“In summary, the Kem Kem assemblage of non-vertebrates and vertebrates is likely to continue to show dramatic increase in diversity in the coming decades. Nonetheless, the array of taxa currently known, which extends from plants across a range of aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates, is sufficiently mature to allow a summary of the vertebrate assemblage and a discussion of its paleoecological contex”,

conclude the researchers.

In his earlier research, a famous paleontologist from the University of Chicago Prof. Paul Sereno has described many outstanding dinosaur discoveries, including new Cretaceous crocodilians from the Sahara and two new fanged vegetarian dinosaur dwarfs (called heterodontosaurids). 


The most famous of Kem Kem dinosaurs, the semi-aquatic giant Spinosaurus, and the most common of Kem Kem fossils, the giant sawfish Onchopristis, tangle in the shallow coastal waters on a warm Late Cretaceous day.
Credit: Artwork by Davide Bonadonna
License: CC-BY 4.0

The wealth of aquatic life, including shrimp, bony fish, lungfish and giant lobe-finned coelacanths, supported a remarkable array of predators, including the fish-eating sail-backed Spinosaurus and toothless pterosaur Alanqa soaring overhead.
Credit: Artwork by Davide Bonadonna
License: CC-BY 4.0

Original source:

Ibrahim N, Sereno PC, Varricchio DJ, Martill DM, Dutheil DB, Unwin DM, Baidder L, Larsson HCE, Zouhri S, Kaoukaya A (2020) Geology and paleontology of the Upper Cretaceous Kem Kem Group of eastern Morocco. ZooKeys 928: 1-216. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.928.47517

Contacts:

Prof. Paul Sereno
Email: dinosaur@uchicago.edu 

Dr. Nizar Ibrahim
Email: ibrahini@udmercy.edu