New species of giant pterosaur discovered

A new species of pterosaurs which had a wingspan the size of a family car has been uncovered by scientists.

A researcher at the University of Portsmouth has identified the new species, the largest of its kind, which would have flown in the skies above Brazil 115 million years ago.

Mark Witton was able to estimate from a partial skull fossil that the pterosaur would have had a wingspan of five metres (16.4ft) and would have been more than one metre (39 inches) tall at the shoulder.

The fossil is the first example of a chaoyangopteridae, a group of toothless pterosaurs, to be found outside China and is the largest one ever discovered.

Mr Witton said: "Some of the previous examples we have from this family in China are just 60 centimetres (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 christened the new species Lacusovagus, meaning lake wanderer, after the large body of water in which the remains were buried.

He was asked to examine the specimen, which had lain in a German museum for several years after its discovery in the Crato formation of the Araripe Basin in north east Brazil, an area well known for its fossils and their excellent state of preservation.

He said this fossil was preserved in an unusual way, making its interpretation difficult.

He explained: "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."

He added: "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.