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Sexing Pterodactyls

January 31, 2011

The discovery of a female pterodactyl with an egg in China is making paleontologists take a second look at old fossil collections.


Fossilized sex lives….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Determining the sex of a prehistoric animal is notoriously difficult. That’s because soft-tissue anatomical features are rarely preserved by the fossil record. But researchers working in China recently pieced together clues from a pterodactyl fossil of the species Darwinopterus that indicate the birdlike reptile was a female. Paleontologist Dave Unwin of the University of Leicester in England says the specimen was found with an egg that clearly came from its body.

DAVE UNWIN (University of Leicester):
So we know straightaway that we’re dealing with a female.

It also had wide hips, which probably helped with egg laying, and lacked a crest. Unwin says several other members of the species have been found with wide hips and no crests, suggesting they were probably females too.

Males might have used the crest to intimidate other males and frighten them away or maybe // to attract females.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.