Scientists Discover ‘Remarkable’ Small Flying Dinosaur in Morocco

The newly discovered dinosaur was the size of a turkey, using its long beak to prod through mud near rivers in search of food. Artwork: Dr. Nick Longrich

Rabat – The publication of a new scientific paper has revealed the discovery of a new type of winged dinosaur in Morocco. While dinosaurs typically induce images of wonder over their giant and ferocious appearance, the new pterosaur discovered would evoke very different emotions. 

The newly discovered dinosaur was the size of a turkey, using its long beak to prod through mud near rivers in search of food. The “remarkable little pterosaur,” as Professor Martill, one of the paleontologists who discovered the dinosaur called it, was found near the village of Hassi El Begaa, in the Kem Kem region in eastern Morocco.

Unusual discovery

The discovery of the new flying dinosaur would have almost never happened. The animal’s small size and unusual nature had meant paleontologists had initially considered its fossils to be the spine of a fish. Professor David Martill, one of the discovers and co-author of the paper on the newly found creature said his team nearly missed on the amazing find.

Professor Martill, paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth, remarked that the tiny pterosaur is a uniquely special discovery.  “We’ve never seen anything like this little pterosaur before,” he said, adding “the bizarre shape of the beak was so unique, at first the fossils weren’t recognized as a pterosaur.”

The newly discovered dinosaur is named Leptostomia Begaaensis, meaning “slim mouth” in Greek, with “begaaensis” referring to the village Hassi El Begaa where it was found. The creature is part of the pterosaur family of flying dinosaurs. “The diets and hunting strategies of pterosaurs were diverse, they likely ate meat, fish and insects, the giant pterosaurs probably ate whatever they wanted,” Matill told Sci-News.

Hunting pioneer

The dinosaur lived in Morocco in the mid-Cretaceous period, between 94 and 113 million years ago and used its long flattened toothless beak to feed in the banks of rivers. The dinosaur’s unique beak is similar to modern birds and the creature likely pioneered hunting techniques used by modern bird species today.

“Some species hunted food on the wing, others stalked their prey on the ground” Matill said, “the fragments of this remarkable little pterosaur show a lifestyle previously unknown for pterosaurs.” The finding indicates that there was probably a much greater diversity in  pterosaurs than expected, meaning other new discoveries could lay ahead.

It is possible the tiny dinosaurs roamed all over Morocco according to Dr. Nick Longrich, paleontologist at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. “Leptostomia Begaaensis may actually have been a fairly common pterosaur” he stated, “but it’s so strange, people have probably been finding bits of this beast for years, but we didn’t know what they were until now.”

Dr. Longrich, one of the authors of the paper about the discovery in Morocco, thinks the dinosaur could have been the first to hunt like modern birds. “You might think of the pterosaur as imitating the strategy used successfully by modern birds,” he said, “but it was the pterosaur that got there first.”

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