Courtesy Mark RyanThe fossil remains of a new species of pterosaur, a flying reptile that lived during the time of the dinosaurs, have been uncovered in China, but nearby Japan probably has no cause for alarm.
Although it’s not believed to be an adult specimen, the prehistoric critter is remarkable in its size and the structure of its feet. Its wingspan measures less than twelve inches, leading scientists to think it may be one of the smallest pterosaurs ever found. The findings appear in this week’s online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Pterosaurs weren’t dinosaurs but were closely related to them. They were the first known vertebrates to evolve winged flight and co-existed with dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era.
Most pterosaur specimens have been found previously along what used to be coastal regions. This new one inhabited the gingko forest that covered the western portion of China's Liaoning province some 120 million years ago.
An important feature seen in the new toothless pterosaur is that some of its toe bones appear to be curved leading its discoverers to believe it was arboreal and spent a lot of time perched in the Early Cretaceous trees. Subsequently, they have named the creature Nemicolopterus crypticus, which means, "hidden flying forest dweller".
"It is interesting to see some clear arboreal adaptations in this species," said Matthew Carrano, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. "It confirms a suspicion we had, that pterosaurs were more diverse in their habitats than we knew from the [fossil] record." Carrano was not part of the research team.
It also means the size range of pterosaurs now extends from this sparrow-sized percher to the gigantic Quetzalcoatlus whose wingspan reached up to 36 feet!
By the way, an impressive Rodan-sized skeleton of Quetzacoatlus can be seen at the Science Museum overhead as you enter the lobby.