A group of scientists have recently discovered a Pterosaur fossil, the oldest of its kind, and the first in the Pterodactyloid group, known as Kryptodrakon. The fossil was found in China and is believed to be some 163 million years old. It is the most primitive of the Pteradactyloid and helps to close a gap in knowledge concerning the origin and evolution of the group from the primitive Pterosaur, to the newly found Kryptodrakon, to the giant Pterodactyl that ruled the skies during the time of the dinosaurs.
The newly discovered reptile has been named Kryptodrakon progenitor, which means ““ancestral hidden serpent.” The name is a play on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which was filmed in the area in which the fossil was found. The name also rings true of the nature of the discovery. The Kryptodrakon had not previously been discovered and researchers believe this could be due to the fact that the Pterosaurs are not as easily preserved inland.
These particular Pterosaur fossils were, rather unusually, found very far inland in a dry and dusty area. The fossil fragments were found in the Shishugou Formation in Northwest China in 2001. The fragments were collected from mudstone 35 meters below the ground in an ash bed, by Chris Sloan, President of Science Visualization, and his team. The findings from the subsequent research were published on April 24, and extensive analysis shows that the flying reptile likely inhabited the area where the fossil fragments were found.
It is widely believed that early pterosaurs lived in marine environments, usually by the ocean. As pointed out by co-author of the research, Brian Andres, the environment where the fossil fragments were found, and likely where the Pterosaur lived, was as “far as you can get from the ocean.” The KryptoDrakon is a rare find, and points to an aspect of terrestrial evolution in Pterodactyloids.
The creature is also thought to solve a missing link between the early Pterosaur groups, and the features of the Pterodactyloids. Andres suggests the that the Kryptodrakon Pterosaur is the oldest of its kind, and that the fossil represents the very first Pterodactyloid, showing the last features that changed before the group radiated into the giants that they became.
Although the team did not find any skull pieces scientists were able to identify the creature as a Pterodactyloid by a bone in the palm, which is much longer than that shown in early Pterosaurs, and is joined to the ring finger in the Kryptodrakon. The evolution of this bone, according to Andres, may have been a result of an adaption which made their wings more capable in the environment, later helping them to rule in the skies. The Kryptodrakon is estimated to have only a small wingspan of 1.4 meters. Later Pterodactyloids dwarfed this, with a wingspan of up to nine meters, or 30 foot. To put that into perspective the later Pterodactyloids were about the size of a commercial airplane.
The discovery of the Kryptodrakon Pterosaur fossils, the oldest recorded Pterodactyloid, dates back at least five million years before scientists previously had fossil records. The research also points to the terrestrial evolution of the species where earlier Pterosaurs were mostly inhabiting marine areas. The fossil findings bridge more gaps in the understanding of the Jurassic era, and specifically in the evolution of the Pterodactyloid.
By Matthew Warburton