Professor helps discover new species of flying reptile from 100 million years ago

April 02, 2020

 Afrotapejara zouhrii, the first tapejarid pterosaur from Africa (Artwork by Davide Bonadonna)An international team of paleontologists, including University of Detroit Mercy’s Nizar Ibrahim, has described a new species of flying reptile (pterosaur), which flew over North Africa 100 million years ago during the time of the dinosaurs.

The new species belongs to a bizarre group of pterosaurs called tapejarids and it is the first of its kind in Africa.

The tapejarids are well known in Brazil and China, and specimens have also been discovered in Europe.

“This new pterosaur would have sported a crest, a relatively short skull and toothless jaws — it would have been pretty spectacular looking,” Ibrahim said.

Professor David Martill of the University of Portsmouth in England believes the study of the Moroccan material shows that we are still far from having found all the paleontological treasures of North Africa.

"Even fragmentary fossils, like the jaw piece of the new pterosaur, can give us important information about the biodiversity of the past,” he said.

The new pterosaur, named Afrotapejara zouhrii, honors Moroccan paleontologist Samir Zouhri. Originally a mammal specialist, Zouhri also contributed to several discoveries of prehistoric reptiles in Morocco, including dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

“The opportunity to illuminate the diversity of pterosaurs in Africa, while honoring a colleague does not happen every day,” Martill said.

“Samir Zouhri has played an important role in the development of Moroccan paleontology, not only through his publications, but also because he organized scientific conferences in Morocco and edited an entire volume for the Geological Society of France on the subject of vertebrate paleontology in Morocco,” Ibrahim said.

The fossil material is part of the collections of the Faculty of Sciences Aïn Chock.