Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ancient flying reptile recognized on B.C. coast

A researcher who revealed a new species of flying reptile that lived 70 million years ago is being credited for solving a prehistoric mystery.

Part of the creature's fossilized jawbone was established five years ago within a rock on a beach on B.C.'s Hornby Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island in the Georgia Strait.

The fossil lay in a dusty storage cabinet at the University of Alberta's paleontology department until Ph.D. student Victoria Arbour became inquisitive last spring and began the gruelling task of determining its source.

"For a long time we consideration it was a little dinosaur jaw and that led us down the wrong path," she said.

Arbour made a breakthrough when she compared the bone against a known Chinese species of pterosaur, a flying reptile that lived throughout the Cretaceous period that frequently grew to the size of a small airplane.

"The teeth of our fossil were little and set close together," Arbour said. "The researcher said her pterosaur Gwawinapterus beardi would have had a very big head with a dense stocky body and a three-metre wingspan. He would be a cruel scavenger who hunted little animals, fish and even tiny dinosaurs.

Her findings come into view in the January issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

The new species is the first pterosaur of any type to be found in British Columbia, and only the second ever establish in Canada.

"In B.C. there's a set of fossil collecting however a lot more things similar to marine shells and fish. There are very a small number of land animals," she said.

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