Meet the pterodactyl's oldest cousin

Dinosaur skull.
(Image credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Before the dinosaurs hit their stride, the Earth may have belonged to a different kind of reptile: the pterosaur.

Paleontologists have discovered a new species of pterosaur, the reptile family to which the famed pterodactyl belongs. Dating back about 210 million years, the bones of Caelestiventus hanseni are changing what we know about these prehistoric creatures.

Caelestiventus hanseni's remains are much older than most other pterosaurs scientist have uncovered — throwing a potential wrench in the evolutionary timeline. In a study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers theorize that the finding means pterosaurs thrived in an age even before dinosaurs had evolved.

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The pterosaurs were the first creatures besides insects to evolve the capacity for powered flight, rather than leaping or gliding, Newsweek explained. Because of the lightness of their bones, remains are usually found in a less-than-pristine condition: "literally like roadkill," study author Brooks Britt told BBC News. So the discovery of these delicate bones still intact — especially the skull — is a major find for paleontologists.

The bones were discovered in a desert in Utah, which would have been an oasis when this creature would have been alive. Though it hadn't reached adulthood, the specimen's wingspan was already over 1.5 meters, or roughly 5 feet, which could make it the biggest species of pterosaur on record, BBC News reported.

Although the fossils cannot be fully removed from the rock they were found in, due to their fragility, scientists are analyzing them using CT scans and 3-D models in the hopes of learning more about how this ancient pterosaur lived. Read more about Caelestiventus hanseni at Newsweek.

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Shivani is the editorial assistant at and has previously written for StreetEasy and A graduate of the physics and journalism departments at NYU, Shivani currently lives in Brooklyn and spends free time cooking, watching TV, and taking too many selfies.