Scientists discover three new species of pterosaurs in the Sahara

Handout illustration issued by the University of Portsmouth of a Pterosaur. Scientists at the University of Portsmouth have discovered three new species of flying reptiles that lived in the Sahara 100 million years ago. Palaeontologist, Professor David Martill, made the discovery with a team of researchers from Morocco and the US (University of Portsmouth/PA Media): University of Portsmouth/PA Media

Scientists have discovered three new species of flying reptiles that roamed the skies of the Sahara 100 million years ago.

The find is evidence of a "golden age for discovering pterodactyles", they said.

Professor David Martill, a palaeontologist at the University of Portsmouth, made the discovery with a team of researchers from Morocco and the US.

The team's findings, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, revealed a community of pterosaurs that inhabited prehistoric Morocco.

A university spokeswoman said: "The new finds show that African pterosaurs were quite similar to those found on other continents.

"These flying predators soared above a world dominated by predators, including crocodile-like hunters and carnivorous dinosaurs. Interestingly, herbivores such as sauropods and ornithischian dinosaurs are rare.

"Many of the predators, including the toothed pterosaurs, preyed on a superabundance of fish."

Mr Martill added: "We are in a golden age for discovering pterodactyles."

"This year alone we have discovered three new species and we are only into March."

The new pterosaurs – identified from chunks of jaws and teeth found in the middle cretaceous Kem Kem Beds of Morocco – had wingspans of three to four metres.

The university spokeswoman said: "These aerial fishers snatched up their prey while on the wing, using a murderous-looking set of large spike-like teeth that formed a highly effective tooth grab.

"Large pterosaurs such as these would have been able to forage over vast distances, similar to present-day birds such as condors and albatrosses."

One of the species, anhanguera, was previously only known from Brazil.

Another, ornithocheirus, had until now only been found in England and middle Asia.

Additional reporting by the Press Association.

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