Washington: Researchers have discovered and named the earliest and most primitive pterodactyloid - a group of flying reptiles that would go on to become the largest known flying creatures to have ever existed - and established they flew above the earth some 163 million years ago, longer than previously known.
Working from a fossil discovered in northwest China, the project-led by University of South Florida (USF) paleontologist Brian Andres, James Clark of the GW Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences-named the new pterosaur species Kryptodrakon progenitor.
Through scientific analysis the team established it as the first pterosaur to bear the characteristics of the Pterodactyloidea, which would become the dominant winged creatures of the prehistoric world.
Chris Liu, program director in the National Science Foundation`s Division of Earth Sciences said that the research has extended the fossil record of pterodactyloids by at least five million years to the Middle-Upper Jurassic boundary about 163 million years ago.
Through studying the fossil fragments, researchers also determined that the pterodactyloids originated, lived, and evolved in terrestrial environments-rather than marine environments where other specimens have been found.
The fossil is of a small pterodactyloid with a wingspan estimate of about 4.5 feet. Pterodactyloids-who went on to evolve into giant creatures, some as big as small planes-went extinct with the dinosaurs, about 66 million years ago. Pterosaurs are considered close relatives to the dinosaurs, but are not dinosaurs themselves.
The scientists write that the pterosaurs were a diverse group of Mesozoic flying reptiles that underwent a body plan reorganization, adaptive radiation, and replacement of earlier forms midway through their long history, resulting in the origin of the Pterodactyloidea, a highly-specialized group of pterosaurs of which Kryptodrakon is the earliest and most primitive species.
The research has been published online in the journal Current Biology.