EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Terminal-Cretaceous Dinosauria and Pterosauria from a Cretaceous-Paleogene mass-death assemblage, Hell Creek Formation, U.S.A.

Robert DePalma1,2, David Unwin3, Anton Oleinik2, David Burnham4, Loren Gurche4, Jeremy Klingler5, Peter Larson6, Thomas Beasley7, Uwe Bergmann8,9, Nicholas Edwards9, Roy Wogelius1, Victoria Egerton1, and Phillip Manning1
Robert DePalma et al.
  • 1University of Manchester, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • 2Florida Atlantic University
  • 3University of Leicester
  • 4University of Kansas
  • 5Southwestern Oklahoma University
  • 6Black Hills Institute of Geological Research
  • 7Florida International University, Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy (FCAEM)
  • 8University of Wisconsin
  • 9Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL)

Dinosaurs and pterosaurs, critical components of late Mesozoic terrestrial biomes, have thus far never been reported in-situ from deposits immediately below the Cretaceous-Paleogene (KPg) boundary. Strata from the KPg boundary preserve worldwide evidence of a massive cosmic impact that resulted in grave consequences for Earth’s biota, triggering a rapid global mass extinction that ultimately claimed ~75% of species. While trends in long-term biotic effects are well-documented, little is known about the fate of biota coeval with the impact because well-preserved fossil evidence is lacking for that brief time interval. Here we report the first-known occurrences of in-situ dinosaur and pterosaur remains coincident with the KPg boundary, providing a vantage point that is closer in temporal proximity to the Chicxulub impact than any prior known records for these clades. The fossils, preserved in a Chicxulub impact-triggered surge deposit and mass-death assemblage in the Hell Creek Formation, U.S.A., consist of a well-developed semi-articulated prenatal pterosaur in ovum and partially articulated remains of a subadult ornithischian dinosaur (Family Thescelosauridae). Examination via synchrotron rapid scanning X-ray fluorescence (SRS-XRF), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and traditional light microscopy revealed extensive preservation of soft tissue consisting of distinct signatures of organic residues as well as three-dimensional structure. The pterosaur embryo, which comprises the first known from the Late Cretaceous and the only example thus far from North America, contributes information pivotal to understanding the prenatal development and early ontogeny of these animals from a time interval for which no such data exists. The ornithischian (c.f. Thescelosaurus sp.) dinosaur, which includes a remarkably complete articulated hind limb enclosed within three-dimensional lithified tubercular skin envelope, provides important data regarding the osseous and soft-tissue anatomy of the Thescelosauridae. In addition to contributing invaluable new anatomical and physiological insights, these specimens constitute the first conclusive evidence of the direct participation of pterosaurs and dinosaurs in the terminal-Cretaceous extinction event.

How to cite: DePalma, R., Unwin, D., Oleinik, A., Burnham, D., Gurche, L., Klingler, J., Larson, P., Beasley, T., Bergmann, U., Edwards, N., Wogelius, R., Egerton, V., and Manning, P.: Terminal-Cretaceous Dinosauria and Pterosauria from a Cretaceous-Paleogene mass-death assemblage, Hell Creek Formation, U.S.A., EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-8957,, 2022.