Artists impression of Late Cretaceous Moroccan Pterosaurs

Pterosaurs of many sizes, as imagined here, dominated the skies over what is now Morocco. Credit: John Conway


Ancient flying reptile was the size of a small plane

Bounty of fossils hints that pterosaurs soared until the end of the Cretaceous.

More than half a dozen species of pterosaur — winged reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs — have been uncovered in a phosphate-mining region of Morocco.

Researchers previously thought that pterosaurs declined to a small and unvaried bunch some 80 million years ago, and then became extinct. But the Moroccan pterosaur fossils described by Nicholas Longrich at the University of Bath, UK, and his colleagues include at least five new species dating to 66 million to 67 million years ago. They range from a creature (Alcione elainus) the size of a large eagle to a giant animal, as yet unnamed, with a wingspan of nearly 9 metres.

Analysis of these fossils and others suggest that, rather than fading away, a diverse range of pterosaurs thrived until the asteroid strike blamed for wiping out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.