Page last updated at 20:14 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

New flying reptile species found

Chaoyangopteridae (copyright: Mark Witton)
The new species was named Lacusovagus, meaning lake wanderer

A new fossil species of flying reptile with a wingspan the size of a family car has been uncovered by scientists.

A researcher at the University of Portsmouth has identified the new type of pterosaur, the largest of its kind ever to have been discovered.

It would have flown in the skies above Brazil 115 million years ago.

Mark Witton estimated that the pterosaur had a wingspan of 16.4ft (5m) and would have been more than 39in (1m) tall at the shoulder.

The partial skull fossil, found in Brazil, is the first example of a chaoyangopteridae, a group of toothless pterosaurs, to be found outside China.

Mr Witton said: "Some of the previous examples we have from this family in China are just 60cm (2ft) long - as big as the skull of the new species.

"Put simply, it dwarfs any chaoyangopterid we've seen before by miles."

Mr Witton has named the new species Lacusovagus, meaning lake wanderer, after the large body of water in which the remains were buried.

It had lain in a German museum for several years after its discovery in the Crato formation of the Araripe Basin in north east Brazil, which is well known for its fossils.

Liked large prey

Mr Witton said: "Usually fossils like this are found lying on their sides but this one was lying on the roof of its mouth and had been rather squashed, which made even figuring out whether it had teeth difficult.

"Still, it's clear to see that Lacusovagus had an unusually wide skull, which has implications for its feeding habits - maybe it liked particularly large prey.

"The remains are very fragmentary, however, so we need more specimens before we can draw any conclusions.

"The discovery of something like this in Brazil - so far away from its closest relatives in China - demonstrates how little we actually know about the distribution and evolutionary history of this fascinating group of creatures."

Mr Witton's findings were published in the journal Palaeontology in November.

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