TIM EDWARDS – A new species of pterosaur has been named after the five-year-old girl who discovered its fossilised remains lodged in a cliff face on the Isle of Wight. The seagull-sized flying reptile becomes the latest in a line of dinosaurs and their contemporaries to have been found by a child.
The newly discovered animal has been named Vectidraco daisymorrisae, which means ‘Isle of Wight dragon belonging to Daisy Morris’. Only 29 dinosaurs are known from the Isle of Wight – and just a handful of pterosaurs.
Darren Naish, lead author of the paper describing the new species, explains today on Walking With Dinosaurs that Vectidraco is a member of one of the more interesting groups of pterosaurs. The flying reptile is thought to be an azhdarchoid, which is a group that includes the aeroplane-sized pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus.
Vectidraco is more modestly proportioned, with a wingspan of about 75 cm. It is likely to have been a capable runner as well as an agile flier and might have fed upon frogs, lizards or insects, according to Naish.
In what must be a first for a scientific paper, the manuscript, which was first published in PLoS ONE today, has inspired a children’s book adaptation.
Martin Simpson, a co-author of the Vectidraco paper, and the writer of Daisy and the Isle of Wight Dragon, says: “Scientific papers never really go into detail about the actual discovery or the finder, which quite often can be more interesting.”
Although aimed at children, his book doesn’t shy away from hard science. For example - and to the delight of archosaur lovers everywhere - the book introduces kids to the difference between dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and explains why so many people insist on incorrectly calling the latter ‘pterodactyls’.
The star of the new book is Vectidraco’s discoverer, Daisy Morris, who Simpson says is “mad about collecting bones, skulls, shells, pickled shrews” and more. Her bedroom is apparently like a museum.
Simpson hopes his book will encourage more girls to become interested in palaeontology, a field which is dominated by men. He goes so far as to compare Daisy to one of the greatest palaeontologists of either gender. “Daisy has found a new species of pterosaur, just like Mary Anning of Lyme Regis did in the 1820s,” says Simpson.
While some people might be horrified at the thought of a book which encourages children to hammer away at cliffs to find precious fossils, Simpson points out that palaeontologists on the Isle of Wight actually need the help.
“We encourage people to look in the scree slopes on actively eroding cliffs - otherwise the [fossils] might be lost.
“There is no need to bash the cliffs because the sea does all the work. Most of the fossils are found loose.”
Daisy isn’t the first child to discover a new species of Mesozoic reptile. In 1986, a seven-year-old called Christopher Wolfe discovered the Late Cretaceous ceratopsian Zuniceratops in New Mexico, and in 1993, 14-year-old Wes Linster discovered Bambiraptor, an extremely well preserved fossil theropod.