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Remarkable Fossil to Be Displayed in Pterosaurs Exhibition

by AMNH on

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A remarkable pterosaur fossil of the Late Jurassic species Rhamphorhynchus muensteri will make its U.S. debut when Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs opens in just a few weeks, on Saturday, April 5, 2014. 

Dark Wing pterosaur fossil
This exquisitely preserved pterosaur fossil, known as Dark Wing, will be on display in Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs, open from April 5, 2014. 
© AMNH/D. Finnin

Discovered in Germany in 2001, the so-called Dark Wing fossil is considered by paleontologists to be a particularly important specimen for the amount of detail preserved, and it has never before been exhibited outside of Germany.

Among ancient vertebrates, pterosaur fossils are particularly rare—far rarer than dinosaur bones. But by the time Dark Wing was discovered in 2001, Rhamphorhynchus muensteri was already one of the most widely studied pterosaurs, with more than 100 other fossils unearthed since the first was found in the early 1800s. Usually, too, only a pterosaur's bones are fossilized, meaning that scientists lack information about the soft tissue of the animals' crests or the skin of their bodies and wings.

Rhamphorhynchus muensteri pterosaur
The pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus muensteri lived about 150 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic. More than 100 fossils of this species—shown in an artists's rendering above—have been found.
© AMNH 2014

But in Dark Wing, the wing tissues are so well preserved that scientists have been able to see fine details in their structure. Under ultraviolet light, researchers detected layers of skin threaded with blood vessels, muscles, and long fibers that stiffened the wing, leading to increased understanding of how the animals' wings might have lofted them through the air.  

Learn more about the fossil in Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs, opening Saturday, April 5.