Smallest ever Pterodactyl discovered in China

An artist's impression of the tiny pterosaur | Image: MSNBC / AP Pterosaurs: ancient monsters of the sky, dinosaurs with wings, giants 20 feet wide… and now, according to a new fossil discovered in China, they also used to be little sparrow-sized insect eaters with 10 inch wingspans.

Discovered in northeastern China, the tiny pterosaur lived 120 million years ago in a region that used to be forested, suggesting that the tiny reptile perched on trees, much like a modern bird would do. The fossil (click here for image) had curved feet, which supports the theory that it was a tree-dweller, spending a lot of its time clinging onto branches.

Nemicolopterus crypticus, meaning ‘hidden flying forest dweller’, is the smallest pterosaur yet discovered, and could offer clues as to how the flying reptiles evolved to become giants that ruled the sky.

Pterosaurs (sometimes known as pterodactyls) had wings made of skin rather than feathers, and were roaming the skies until the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Surprisingly, they were not the ancestors of birds; the two genetic trees are widely separated. In fact, some scientists argue that early birds actually contributed to the extinction of the pterosaurs, because birds – which evolved not too long before the great extinction 65 million years ago – were better adapted to the environment than pterosaurs.

The new species discovered in China is definitely not a baby, although scientists think it may not have been fully developed. Nevertheless, it was still one tiny creature.

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