Largest Jurassic Pterodactyl Ever Found Had Wing Span Bigger Than Michael Jordan

Paleontologists have discovered the largest pterosaur ever to rule the skies of the Jurassic period.

The 170 million-year-old fossil unearthed in Scotland's Isle of Skye belongs to a creature (from a family informally called Pterodactyls) believed to have been the largest to ever take to the sky over Earth up until that point.

The remarkably well-preserved skeleton of the new pterosaur species, which has been named Dearc sgiathanach, reveals these flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs became larger earlier in Earth's history than previously believed.

Believed to be a juvenile, the creature's wingspan is estimated to have been around 8.2 feet or 2.5 meters wide—wider than NBA legends Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neil. And taller than wrestling legend Andre the Giant.

By the time Earth's Cretaceous period rolled around, approximately 145 million years ago, some of the ancestors of Dearc sgiathanach, which means "winged reptile" in Gaelic, had grown to much greater sizes.

The largest-ever pterosaur and the largest flying animal ever discovered, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, lived around 67 million years ago and had a wingspan of 36 feet, or 11 meters, almost as long as the Hollywood sign.

While Dearc sgiathanach may not measure up to its ancestors in terms of wingspan, the creature's evolutionary importance is tremendous.

Chair of paleontology at Edinburgh University, professor Steve Brusatte, told Newsweek: "We have an exquisite fossil skeleton that belongs to a new species of pterosaur. It is far and away the most complete and best-preserved pterosaur found in Scotland, but has global significance."

"This pterosaur was big—much, much bigger than we expected a Jurassic-aged pterosaur to be. It was about the size of a modern-day albatross, the largest flying birds. Back when it was soaring over the lagoons of Scotland 170 million years ago, it was the largest flying animal that had ever lived, as far as we know."

The fossilized pterosaur was first spotted by Edinburgh University Ph.D. student Amelia Penny who saw its jaw protruding from the limestone layer on a tidal platform (in an area of Skye called Brothers' Point) while on a field trip led by Brusatte.

Penny and Brusatte are two of the authors of a paper published in the journal Current Biology that details the discovery of Dearc sgiathanach.

Brusatte told STV News: "We're building up this picture of Jurassic Scotland—a little island in the Atlantic with sub-tropical jungles, mountains, rivers, beaches, lagoons; dinosaurs were thriving on the land and pterodactyls were flying overhead, but we want to keep finding more.

"It's exquisitely preserved. We have the skull, we have the neck, we have a lot of the wings, we have the body, we have the tail."

The fact that the fossil is so well preserved has enabled researchers to determine that it had large optic lobes, indicating that as a species Dearc sgiathanach had good eyesight.

The paper's lead author, Ph.D. student Natalia Jagielska will now attempt to discover more about how the species lived, including how it fed and how it flew. This has been made easier by the excellent condition of the fossilized remains.

She told STV News: "Amazing things like enamel, the shiny surface on your teeth, is intact, so we can actually find out the last meal it ate.

"These fossils don't normally preserve that well and it's coming from a very interesting time period. Middle Jurassic was very important for pterosaurs because that's when they diversified and evolved into different body shapes.

"That period is a black spot when coming to our understanding. It's a treasure trove of new discoveries."

Update mm/dd/yy, h:mm a.m/p.m. ET: This article was updated X

Update 2/22/22, 11:03 a.m ET: This article has been updated to include quotes by Steve Brusatte.

Correction 22/2/22, 11:38 a.m ET: This article was updated to change the headline from "Largest Jurassic Pterodactyl Ever Found Had Wing Span Bigger Than Michael Jordan's" to "Largest Jurassic Pterodactyl Ever Found Had Wing Span Bigger Than Michael Jordan."

Pterosaur
A image of a newly discovered pterosaur that is the largest animal to soar through the skies of the Jurassic. Natalia Jageilska

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