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AKIPRESS.COM - An international research team has 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 USF paleontologist Brian Andres, James Clark of the George Washington University 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. Their research was published online Thursday in the journal Current Biology, the website of the University of South Florida said on Thursday.
Kryptodrakon progenitor lived around the time of the Middle-Upper Jurassic boundary. 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 4½-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 discovery provides new information on the evolution of pterodactyloids, Andres said. This area was likely a flood plain at the time the pterosaur lived, Andres said. As the pterosaurs evolved, their wings changed from being narrow, which are more useful for marine environments, to being more broad near the origin of the pterodactyloids – helpful in navigating land environments.