Giant, flying reptiles once filled England's skies

Flying reptiles were prevalent over the skies of Cretaceous England 110 million years ago, a new study suggests.

The winged reptiles, pterosaurs, were the largest flying animals to have ever lived. The largest had a wingspan of over 30 feet and weighed about 550 pounds.

The study, published in the journal ZooKeys, reports that a bunch of pterosaur fossils were unearthed at a site known as Cambridge Greensand, located in the eastern part of England. (The idea of a flying reptile conjures up mythical images from Harry Potter films, many of which included locations at and around Oxford University, but not so much at Cambridge.)

The flying reptiles displayed a remarkable diversity in their appearances, according to Taissa Rodrigues and colleagues.

Rodrigues, a paleontologist from the Federal University of Espiritu Santo, and team determined that some species had head crests of different sizes and shapes, while others had none. Most of the flying animals had large teeth at the tip of their snouts and were fish eaters, but others had smaller teeth, suggesting different feeding preferences.

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The paleontologists were able to identify 14 different species, belonging to at least five different genera, showing a much greater diversity than previously thought.

Another find was that these U.K. flying reptiles turned out to be closely related to species unearthed in northeastern Brazil and eastern China.

“This is very interesting, especially because the continents had already drifted apart,” Rodrigues said in a press release. “If these animals were migratory, we would expect to find the same species in all these deposits.”

Instead, it looks like England, Brazil and China all had their own species and genera of pterosaurs.

Pterosaur power didn’t last too long, though. The English ones went extinct a few million years later.

Today’s birds might cheer the fact that pterosaurs are no longer with us, since the latter were early predators and competitors of birds.

Paleontologists doubt that birds did pterosaurs in. Pterosaurs instead dwindled and eventually died out in other locations at around the same time that non-avian dinosaurs bit the dust, 65 million years ago.