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New smallest specimen of the pterosaur Pteranodon and ontogenetic niches in pterosaurs

  • S. Christopher Bennett (a1)

A new juvenile specimen of Pteranodon from the Smoky Hill Chalk Member of the Niobrara Formation of western Kansas had an estimated wingspan in life of 1.76 m, ~45% smaller than the smallest previously known specimens, but does not differ in morphology from larger specimens. Its presence indicates that juveniles were capable of flying long distances, so it falsifies the interpretation of Pteranodon as growing rapidly to adult size under parental care before flying. Instead juveniles were precocial, growing more slowly to adult size while flying and feeding independently for several years before going to sea. Because juveniles are otherwise unknown in the Smoky Hill Chalk Member, they must have occupied different environments and ecological niches than adults; thus Pteranodon exhibited ontogenetic niches. Evidence is presented that most other pterosaurs (e.g., Rhamphorhynchus, Pterodactylus, Anhanguera) also exhibited various ontogenetic niches, which, along with their large body size, suggests that pterosaur taxonomic diversity was rather low, like that of crocodilians.

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Journal of Paleontology
  • ISSN: 0022-3360
  • EISSN: 1937-2337
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-paleontology
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