National Geographic News
An illustration of a flying pterosaur.

Illustration of the new species of pterosaur—Vectidraco daisymorrisae.

Illustration courtesy University of Southampton

A smiling child.

Daisy Morris. Photograph courtesy University of Southampton  

Ker Than

for National Geographic News

Published March 21, 2013

A new species of crow-size pterosaur has been named in honor of the nine-year-old fossil hunter who discovered it, a new study says.

The new species of pterosaur—a type of flying reptile that lived alongside the dinosaurs—was dubbed Vectidraco daisymorrisae after U.K. youngster Daisy Morris.

While exploring the U.K.'s Isle of Wight (map) in 2008, the then-five-year-old Morris came across blackened "bones sticking out of the sand," according to the BBC. (Vectidraco means "dragon from the Isle of Wight" in Latin.)

The Morris family brought the fossil to paleontologist Martin Simpson at the University of Southampton, who, with the help of colleagues, identified it as a new species. (Also see "New Giant Flying Reptile Found; Hunted on Foot?")

"In pterosaurs, certain parts of the skeleton, especially the skull and the pelvis, are really distinct between different [species]," explained Andrew Farke, a paleontologist at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California, and editor of the new study in PLoS ONE.

The newfound creature also belonged to a group of pterosaurs called the azhdarchoids, which, "in my opinion, are among the most interesting of pterosaurs," study co-author Darren Naish, also of Southampton University, said in a statement.

"All are from the Cretaceous, all are toothless, and many—perhaps all—were especially well adapted for life in terrestrial environments like woodlands, tropical forests, and floodplains," he said. (Related: "Pterosaur 'Runway' Found; Shows Birdlike Landing Style.")

New Pterosaur Was Expert Flyer

From the size of the pelvis, Simpson and his team estimate V. daisymorrisae had a wingspan of about 2.5 feet (75 centimeters) and was just over a foot (35 centimeters) from snout to tail, making it about the size of a gull or large crow.

V. daisymorrisae was a diminutive cousin of Quetzalcoatlus, which had a wingspan of more than 30 feet (10 meters) and was one of the largest flying creatures to have ever lived. (Watch a video of the "flying monster" Quetzalcoatlus.)

The England that V. daisymorrisae lived in 145 to 65 million years ago was also very different than today. It "was presumably quite a bit warmer then," Farke said, "and filled with lush vegetation."

If the new pterosaur was anything like its relatives, it probably had a head crest, was a reasonably good walker and runner on the ground, and could expertly fly through dense forests.

Daisy and the Dragon

More than a new species came out of Morris's fossil-collecting adventure: She also inspired study co-author Simpson to write a children's book entitled Daisy and the Isle of Wight Dragon. (Take National Geographic's dinosaur quiz.)

"The story highlights the special relationship between amateurs, academics, and curators, in bringing these important finds to the attention of the scientific world," Simpson said in a statement.

"It also shows that, continuing a long tradition in paleontology, major discoveries can be made by amateurs—often by being in the right place at the right time."

4 comments
Emma Mattson
Emma Mattson

the first fossil I found was a clam, that girl's find is amazing!

Tiffany Schroeder
Tiffany Schroeder

So very cool. I would love to discover a dinosaur/prehistoric bird, and have it named after me. 

Marcos Toledo
Marcos Toledo

I will be looking out for the book. What a find it it has been naned after you making you famous may you have a find future and more discoveries to come Daisy Morris good work.

Carol Music
Carol Music

Congratulations to you, Daisy! You're going to do great things in your life I think! You not only found something amazing, but you knew enough to let your parents know about it! You most certainly deserve the honor of having this previously unknown pterosaur speicies named after you AND having a book written about your experience!!

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