Feeds

Boffins sex pterodactyls at last

'Mrs T' gives up secrets of ambiguous sky lizards

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Bone-furtling boffins say they have cracked one of the most difficult tasks known among dinosaur aficionados - namely, that of sexing pterodactyls.

Sex related features of Darwinopterus. The male (right) has a large head crest, but this is absent in the female (left). Picture credit: Mark Witton

Have you got a canoe on your head or are you just pleased to see me?

According to a statement issued yesterday by Leicester uni:

The discovery of an ancient fossil, nicknamed "Mrs T", has allowed scientists for the first time to sex pterodactyls – flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs between 220-65 million years ago.

The university adds, somewhat gratuitously:

Pterodactyls featured prominently in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park III and are a classic feature of many dinosaur movies.

Until lately even the most knowledgeable paleontologists, finding a fossilised pterodactyl, would be unsure what sex the creature had been - rather like a modern anthropologist encountering a member of certain present-day urban subcultures, or someone meeting a dwarf in Terry Pratchett's Discworld stories.

No more: now an international team of scientists has discovered a fossilised lady pterodactyl bearing an almost fully developed egg, allowing the creatures' sex-based features to be positively nailed down.

"Many pterosaurs have head crests," explains paleobiologist David Unwin. "In the most spectacular cases these can reach five times the height of the skull. Scientists have long suspected that these crests were used for some kind of display or signalling and may have been confined to males, while females were crestless. But, in the absence of any direct evidence for gender this idea remained speculative...

“The fossil we have discovered, an individual of Darwinopterus, is preserved together with an egg showing that it must be female. This type of discovery, in which gender can be determined with certainty, is extremely rare in the fossil record, and the first to be reported for pterosaurs.”

The Darwinopterus fossil confirms that crested pterodactlys are male and that the females of the species were crestless. According to the bone-boffins the moniker "Mrs T" is "a contraction of Mrs Pterodactyl" [shurely "Mrs Pt, but the P is silent"?].

Mrs T was discovered amid Jurassic rock formations located in Liaoning Province, northeast China. Unwin and his colleagues theorise that she was killed in a tragic prehistoric mishap - perhaps a volcanic eruption - just before laying her well-developed egg.

Apart from crestlessness, according to the investigating boffins, another distinctive feature of the lady pterodactyl is wider hips to permit easier passage of eggs. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.