Pterosaurs are the oldest known powered flying vertebrates. Originating in the Late Triassic, they thrived to the end of the Cretaceous. Triassic pterosaurs are extraordinarily rare and all but one specimen come from marine deposits in the Alps. A new comparatively large (wing span >150 cm) pterosaur, Caelestiventus hanseni gen. et sp. nov., from Upper Triassic desert deposits of western North America preserves delicate structural and pneumatic details not previously known in early pterosaurs, and allows a reinterpretation of crushed Triassic specimens. It shows that the earliest pterosaurs were geographically widely distributed and ecologically diverse, even living in harsh desert environments. It is the only record of desert-dwelling non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs and predates all known desert pterosaurs by more than 65 Myr. A phylogenetic analysis shows it is closely allied with Dimorphodon macronyx from the Early Jurassic of Britain.
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R. L. Hansen (US BLM’s Vernal Field Office) facilitated access under BLM permit UT08-025E. Funding and other support was provided by the BYU Geological Sciences Department and Museum of Paleontology, Dinosaur National Monument (D.J.C.) and University of Nebraska at Omaha (G.F.E.). N. Fraser and J. Clark provided information on the procolophonid and ‘Dimorphodon’ weintraubi, respectively. Segmentation was performed by A. J. Matthews and M. Colbert. M. Gonzales-Whittaker skilfully assisted with illustrations. Manual preparation was performed by S. Meek and C. Thelin. Thanks to J. Wilson for recommendations that improved an early version of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Britt, B.B., Dalla Vecchia, F.M., Chure, D.J. et al. Caelestiventus hanseni gen. et sp. nov. extends the desert-dwelling pterosaur record back 65 million years. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1386–1392 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0627-y