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Aetodactylus halli fossil: a clue in North American mystery

Paleontologists have wondered why a certain family of 'winged lizards' was strangely absent in North America during the Cretaceous. Aetodactylus halli is filling that void.

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An artist's rendering of what the Aetodactylus halli might have looked like.

Illustration by Karen Carr

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When it came to the creatures that ruled the skies near the end of the age of the dinosaurs, North America had appeared to include a curious omission.

Pterosaurs – literally, "winged lizards" – were the first vertebrates capable of flight, and one specific family, called Ornithocheiridae, was plentiful throughout the world. Except in North America.

Enter Aetodactylus halli, a reptile that patrolled the air above what is now Dallas 95 million years ago with a nine foot wingspan and a snaggle-toothed grin.

The fossilized jawbone, found in north Texas in 2006 and announced in the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, is compelling paleontologists to look at the holes in North America’s pterosaur story differently.

Aetodactylus halli is only the second Ornithocheirid to be discovered in North America, but the fossil “hints at a diversity of pterosaurs in the Cretaceous of North America that wasn't previously realized,” said paleontologist Timothy Myers of Southern Methodist University’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, who identified and named the Aetodactylus halli, in a press release.

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