Published on February 6th, 2024 | by Sophie Pollard


Episode 158: Ceoptera evansae

The Middle Jurassic is incredibly important to our understanding of pterosaur evolution; however, the remarkable rarity and incompleteness of Middle Jurassic pterosaurs has long hampered scientific understanding of the lineage.

Joining us this episode on the other side of the microphone is one of Palaeocast’s own team members, Dr Liz Martin Silverstone, a Technical Specialist at the University of Bristol who has recently described Ceoptera evansae, a darwinopteran pterosaur from the Isle of Skye. Together, we explore the new specimen, how it fits in to the group, and the insights it can give us in to pterosaur evolution.

The article is available to read here.

A photo of the area which Ceoptera evansae was found in. Image credit to Paul Barrett.

The specimen was discovered back in 2006, on the north side of Glen Scaladal at Cladach a’Ghlinne, on the Isle of Skye. The locality has previously yielded a rich fauna including turtles, crocodilians, non-avian dinosaurs, and mammaliaforms, and likely represents a low salinity closed lagoonal system from the upper Bathonian.

The holotype of Ceoptera evansae, along with a CT reconstruction of its elements. From Martin-Silverstone et al. 2024.

The remains consist of a partial skeleton from a single individual, including parts of the shoulders, wings, legs, and backbone. The majority of these structures remained completely embedded in the matrix and proved too difficult to remove physically due to the density and hardness of the rock combined with the extreme fragility of the bones themselves. CT scanning was therefore used to visualise all of the preserved remains.

A skeletal diagram of Ceoptera evansae, showing the material present in the holotype (top) and an artist’s impression of the full skeleton (bottom). Image credit to Mark Witton.

The specimen has multiple features which distinguish it from other pterosaurs, and several which indicate that it belongs to the clade Darwinoptera, which was previously thought to have been a paraphyletic, transitionary group between early Pterosaurs and later, more derived lineages.

A consensus tree showing Ceoptera evansae as a basally branching monofenestratan pterosaur within Darwinoptera. From Martin-Silverstone et al. 2024.

The new discovery drastically improves the remarkably poor fossil record of Middle Jurassic, and its inclusion in phylogenetic study underpins a more complex model for the early evolution of pterosaurs.

A life reconstruction of Ceoptera evansae. Image credit to Mark Witton.

The new specimen also provides insight into Darwinoptera as a clade, suggesting that the group spanned more known species and had a much greater temporal and geographic range than previously thought.

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