Scientists discovered on Thursday 163 million-year-old fossils that appear to belong to the oldest known example of a species of flying reptiles. This species later culminated with the largest flying creatures in the history of our planet.
The newly discovered fossils belong to the Jurassic age and the species was named Kryptodrakon progenitor. The fossils were unearthed in the Gobi desert in China and judging by the bones the researchers say that the creature was of a modest size, with a wingspan of 4 feet.
The later members of this branch of pterosaurs were gigantic: the Quetzalcoatlus had a wingspan of about 35 feet. This is the equivalent of an F-16 fighter plane.
Scientists say that pterosaurs became the first flying vertebrates to populate the Earth, 220 million years ago. Birds appeared 150 million years ago and bats appeared much later, about 50 million years ago. The pterosaurs appeared in the Triassic period, after the dinosaurs. They remained unchanged for millions of years – the long tails and small heads were the characteristic features in all species. Later, during Jurassic, some pterosaurs developed anatomical changes that led to the appearance of a new branch, the pterodactyloids, replacing the more primitive forms of pterosaurs. Many pterodactyloids had huge, elongated heads, lost their teeth and grew to gigantic sizes.
The new species of flying reptile discovered, the kryptodrakon lived before the pterodactyloids. One of the scientists who discovered the fossils said that “We can look at his anatomy and see what were the last changes in his body that may be responsible for the success of the group.”
The kryptodrakon lived in an ecosystem dominated by rivers that was far from the ocean. It lived around the same period as the ferocious predator Sinraptor and the gigantic herbivore Mamenchisaurus, which had the longest neck of any creature on Earth. The Kryptodrakon is five million years older than any other species of the pterosaur lineage, scientists believe. This means that the newly unearthed species could fill in that time gap.
New Flying Reptile Fossils Discovered – The Kryptodrakon
The genus name, Kryptodrakon means hidden dragon. It was chosen as an homage to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which had some scenes filmed where the fossils were discovered. The species name, progenitor means ancestral.
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