Ancient Flying Reptiles Found in Mendip Hills: A Glimpse into the Past

Ancient Flying Reptiles Found in Mendip Hills: A Glimpse into the Past

The Mendip Hills in Somerset, England, were once home to a diverse range of ancient reptiles, according to researchers from the University of Bristol. Among these prehistoric residents were gliding winged-reptiles known as Kuehneosaurs. While they resembled lizards, these creatures were actually more closely related to the ancestors of crocodiles and dinosaurs.

The Kuehneosaurs were pint-sized, fitting comfortably on the palm of a hand. There were two species, one with extensive wings and the other with shorter wings. The wings were made of a thin layer of skin stretched across their elongated side ribs, enabling them to glide from tree to tree. Much like the present-day flying lizard Draco from southeast Asia, these reptiles likely spent their time on the ground and in trees, hunting for insects.

The discovery of the Kuehneosaurs was made by Mike Cawthorne, a Masters student at the University of Bristol. Cawthorne examined numerous reptile fossils from limestone quarries that once formed the Mendip Palaeo-island, the largest sub-tropical island at the time. These fossils were found in caves and cracks in the limestone, either due to falling or being washed in by water.

The study, published in Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, also revealed the presence of reptiles with complex teeth, such as the trilophosaur Variodens and the aquatic Pachystropheus. These reptiles likely lived in a manner similar to modern-day otters, feeding on shrimp and small fish.

While Cawthorne did not find any dinosaur bones in the collections he studied, it is suspected that they may have existed in the area. Other locations of the same geological age around Bristol have yielded dinosaur bones. The Mendip Palaeo-island, stretching nearly 30 km long from Frome to Weston-super-Mare, was once teeming with diverse small reptiles that thrived on plants and insects.

The fossils examined for this study were collected by dedicated individuals in the 1940s and 1950s. Tom Fry, an amateur collector working for Bristol University, would cycle to the quarries and return with bags full of heavy rocks. Walter Kühne, a German imprisoned in Great Britain during World War II, and Pamela L. Robinson from University College London also made significant contributions. Their specimens were ultimately provided to the Natural History Museum in London and the Geological Collections of the University of Bristol.

These fascinating discoveries shed light on the diverse ancient ecosystem that once existed in the Mendip Hills. They provide valuable insights into the evolutionary history of reptiles and offer a glimpse into the past of this region, which was once an archipelago of small islands in a warm sub-tropical sea around 200 million years ago.

FAQ:

Q: What were the Kuehneosaurs?
A: The Kuehneosaurs were gliding winged-reptiles that lived in the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England. They were small reptiles that resembled lizards but were more closely related to the ancestors of crocodiles and dinosaurs.

Q: How did the Kuehneosaurs glide?
A: The Kuehneosaurs had wings made of a thin layer of skin stretched across their elongated side ribs. This enabled them to glide from tree to tree, much like the present-day flying lizard Draco from southeast Asia.

Q: What did the Kuehneosaurs eat?
A: These reptiles likely spent their time on the ground and in trees, hunting for insects.

Q: Who discovered the Kuehneosaurs?
A: Mike Cawthorne, a Masters student at the University of Bristol, discovered the Kuehneosaurs. He examined reptile fossils from limestone quarries in the Mendip Hills.

Q: What other reptiles were found in the Mendip Hills?
A: The study also revealed the presence of reptiles with complex teeth, such as the trilophosaur Variodens and the aquatic Pachystropheus. These reptiles likely lived in a manner similar to modern-day otters, feeding on shrimp and small fish.

Q: Were dinosaur bones found in the Mendip Hills?
A: While no dinosaur bones were found in the collections studied, it is suspected that they may have existed in the area. Other locations of the same geological age around Bristol have yielded dinosaur bones.

Key Terms/Jargon:
– Kuehneosaurs: Gliding winged-reptiles that were closely related to the ancestors of crocodiles and dinosaurs.
– Limestone: A sedimentary rock that often contains fossils.
– Paleontology: The scientific study of prehistoric life through the examination of fossils.
– Quarries: Sites where stone is extracted for construction.
– Trilophosaur: A reptile with complex teeth.
– Aquatic: Related to or living in water.
– Geologists’ Association: A scientific organization focused on the study of rocks and minerals.

Related Links:
University of Bristol
Natural History Museum, London
Geological Collections of the University of Bristol