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New dinosaur species discovered in Lebanon

A skeleton of a dinosaur, 23 August 2011 [Wikipedia]
The skeleton of a dinosaur displayed in a museum, 23 August 2011 [Wikipedia]

Scientists have identified a previously unknown species of dinosaur that lived in what is today Lebanon an estimated 95 million years ago. The remains of the creature, which are said to be very well preserved, were uncovered in a limestone quarry over fifteen years ago, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports last week.

The species of the pterosaur, which was a type of large flying reptilian that is believed to have been the first vertebrate to fly, apparently lived in and around the Tethys Sea, a tropical ocean that separated the ancient land continents of Laurasia and Gondwana throughout the Mesozoic Era between 251 to 65.5 million years ago. This ocean covered what is now the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Despite the remains of pterosaurs being scattered throughout every contemporary continent, the regions where there was a huge gap in the species’ remains were Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. This discovery fills that gap in knowledge and the fossil record.

The study was authored by researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada and the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. “Pterosaur specimens, the first vertebrates to achieve powered flight, are still quite rare in the African continent…” explained Alexander Kellner from the museum. “Here we describe the best-preserved material of this group of flying reptiles known from this continent so far, shedding new and much-needed light on the evolutionary history of these creatures.”

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Michael Caldwell, a co-author of the study from the University of Alberta, also touched upon the diversity that the discovery reveals. “The diversity of these ancient animals was much greater than we could ever have guessed at, and is likely orders of magnitude more diverse than we will ever be able to discover from the fossil record.”

What is surprising is that this new species, which has been named Mimodactylus libanensis, was found in Lebanon, shining light on the formerly unknown geographical proximity that the modern Middle East had to this species of dinosaur. “This means that this Lebanese pterodactyloid was part of a radiation of flying reptiles living in and around and across the ancient Tethys Seaway, from China to a great reef system in what is today Lebanon,” Caldwell added.

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