(ORDO NEWS) — Nearly a century ago, the skeletal imprint of a small bipedal reptile called the Scleromochle was discovered in Scotland.
Now, having studied in detail the skeleton of this animal using computed tomography, scientists have come to the conclusion that in front of them is a land relative of the first flying vertebrates in the world, the pterosaurs that reigned in the sky of the Mesozoic era.
In 1907, the Scleromochlus taylori, a small reptile only about 18 centimeters long, was described , which lived in the late Triassic period , about 230 million years ago.
After that, for many years, paleontologists argued about the systematic position of scleromochle on the evolutionary tree of reptiles: it was considered either a relative of pterosaurs , or a “cousin” of dinosaurs, or a representative of some special side branch of the development of reptiles.
The exact identification was difficult because the bones of Scleromochl were not found: its holotype is only an imprint in a block of sandstone, preserved after the destruction of the animal’s skeleton.
To analyze it, scientists had to use wax or latex to fill in the voids in the stone. Now, with the help of computed tomography, researchers have managed to obtain the first computer model of the skeleton, restoring the structure of the bones of Scleromochle with unprecedented accuracy.
As a result, scientists finally established that the assumption put forward back in 2014 turned out to be correct: scleromochl is the closest relative of flying pterosaurs, belonging to the lagerpetid family as part of pterosauromorphs.
The structure of the animal’s hind limbs, especially the shins, ankles and heels, turned out to be the most informative: it is in them that barely noticeable signs are hidden, indicating a close relationship between Lagerpetids and pterosaurs.
Although Scleromochl could not be the direct ancestor of pterosaurs (they appeared on Earth at about the same time as he), the features of his anatomy reveal what the ancestors of the first flying reptiles of our planet looked like.
They appear to have been small insectivorous animals that, unlike dinosaurs, moved on both two legs and four.
The new discovery not only resolves a century-old paleontological dispute, but also sheds light on the early history of pterosaurs, which is still shrouded in mystery.
Although these reptiles dominated the skies of the Mesozoic era for over 150 million years, their origin is still a mystery to us.
It will take new finds of ancient lizards – perhaps similar to Scleromochle – to definitively answer the question: where did pterosaurs come from and what did they look like at the beginning of their history?
Contact us: [email protected]