December 20, 2010

Aetodactylus halli as imagined by illustator Karen Carr.

A rare 95 million-year-old flying reptile that made its home over Texas has been rescued from obscurity by SMU paleontologist Timothy S. Myers.

Myers, a postdoctoral researcher in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College, identified and named Aetodactylus halli, a new genus and species of pterosaur. Pterosaurs were a group of flying reptiles commonly referred to as pterodactyls. He named the pterosaur for Lance Hall, a member of the Dallas Paleontological Society who hunts fossils for a hobby. Hall found the specimen southwest of Dallas and donated it to SMU.

Myers has estimated that Aetodactylus halli, which flew over an ancient shallow sea that once extended over Texas, had a wingspan of roughly 3 meters, or about 9 feet, making it a “medium-sized” pterosaur. They represent the earliest vertebrates capable of flying and ruled the skies from more than 200 million years ago to 65 million years ago when they went extinct.

Aetodactylus halli is also one of the youngest members in the world of the pterosaur family Ornithocheiridae, says Myers. The newly identified reptile is only the second ornithocheirid ever documented in North America, he adds.
– Margaret Allen