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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.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
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.

HIRSHON:
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.

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

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