Research Spotlight: SMU researcher names rare ‘flying lizard’

Timothy Myers

Research Spotlight: SMU researcher names rare ‘flying lizard’

Aetodactylus_halli%5Bkc%5D-lorez.jpgA 95 million-year-old fossilized jaw discovered in Texas has been identified as a new genus and species of flying reptile, Aetodactylus halli.

Aetodactylus halli is a pterosaur, a group of flying reptiles commonly referred to as pterodactyls. The rare pterosaur – literally a winged lizard – is also one of the youngest members in the world of the pterosaur family Ornithocheiridae, according to paleontologist Timothy Myers, who identified and named the creature.

The newly identified reptile is only the second ornithocheirid ever documented in North America, Myers says. He is a postdoctoral fellow in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College.

Aetodactylus halli would have soared over what is now the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the Cretaceous Period when much of the Lone Star state was under water, covered by a vast ancient sea.

Jawbone of Aetodactylus halliWhile rare in North America, toothed pterosaurs belonging to the Ornithocheiridae are a major component of Cretaceous pterosaur faunas elsewhere in the world, Myers says. The Texas specimen (right) – a nearly complete mandible with most of its 54 teeth missing – is definitively younger than most other ornithocheirid specimens from Brazil, England and China, he says. It is five million years younger than the only other known North American ornithocheirid.

Myers describes the new species in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. He named the pterosaur Aetodactylus halli after Lance Hall, a member of the Dallas Paleontological Society who hunts fossils for a hobby. Hall found the specimen in 2006, embedded in a soft, powdery shale exposed by excavation of a hillside next to a highway near Mansfield. He donated the specimen to SMU.

Myers’ article in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology is titled “A new ornithocheirid pterosaur from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Turonian) Eagle Ford Group of Texas.”

The research was funded by SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and Institute for the Study of Earth and Man.

Written by Margaret Allen

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May 4, 2010|Research|

Research Spotlight: Jurassic climate, from treeless to tropical

An ancient soil crack, or clastic dike, produced by alternating wet and dry cyclesThe Congo Basin – with its massive, lush tropical rain forest – was far different 150 million to 200 million years ago.

At that time Africa and South America were part of the single continent Gondwana. The Congo Basin was arid, with a small amount of seasonal rainfall, and few bushes or trees populated the landscape, according to a new geochemical analysis of rare ancient soils.

The geochemical analysis provides new data for the Jurassic period, when very little is known about central Africa’s paleoclimate, says Timothy Myers, a paleontology doctoral student in SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College.

There aren’t a whole lot of terrestrial deposits from that time period preserved in Central Africa,” Myers says. “Scientists have been looking at Africa’s paleoclimate for some time, but data from this time period is unique.”

There are several reasons for the scarcity of deposits: Ongoing armed conflict makes it difficult and challenging to retrieve them; and the thick vegetation, a humid climate and continual erosion prevent the preservation of ancient deposits, which would safeguard clues to Africa’s paleoclimate.

Myers’ research is based on a core sample drilled by a syndicate interested in the oil and mineral deposits in the Congo Basin. Myers accessed the sample – drilled from a depth of more than 2 kilometers – from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, where it is housed. With the permission of the museum, he analyzed pieces of the core at the SMU Huffington Department of Earth Science’s Isotope Laboratory.

“I would love to look at an outcrop in the Congo,” Myers says, “but I was happy to be able to do this.” (Above, an ancient soil crack, called a clastic dike, produced by alternate wetting and drying cycles from seasonal rainfall.)

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November 10, 2009|Research|
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