Scientists have discovered fossils of a new pterosaur species that lived in what is now northern China during the Jurassic period. And they are pretty adorable animals.
Pterosaurs lived on Earth during the Mesozoic era (about 252 million to 66 million years ago). They were the first reptiles that could fly, with sizes ranging from that of a sparrow to as big as a giraffe.
Pterosaurs are winged cousins of dinosaurs, and the two went extinct during the same period. But they were on different branches of the evolutionary tree.
The new species of pterosaurs was discovered from a fossil dated to 160 million years ago, unearthed in the northern Chinese province of Hebei, according to an academic report published in March.
It has been named Sinomacrops bondei. Sinomacrops stands for “China, large eyes and face” in ancient Greek.
Fion Waisum Ma, a researcher at the University of Birmingham who worked on the discovery, said the animal, which was the size of a pigeon, belonged to a type of pterosaurs known for their frog-like mouths.
Scientists had examined the fossil with CT scanning and studied about one hundred anatomical characteristics of the animal before concluding it was a species never discovered before, Ma told VICE World News.
A paleontology artist has illustrated the new animal based on the fossil and also hypotheses the scientists made based on the characteristics of closely-related pterosaurs.
The fossil was found in a subtropical forest back in the Jurassic.
The pterosaur had a long tail, large eyes, and membranous wings. Much is unknown about the pterosaur’s other living habits, but these small pterosaurs likely lived on insects.
Ma said northern China contains several rock formations that are good at preserving fossils, which sometimes included soft tissues and feathers of prehistoric animals.
The same team this month published another discovery of a new pterosaur species from a fossil found in China’s northeastern province of Liaoning. Its name, antipollicatus, means “opposite thumbed” in ancient Greek. It provided the earliest evidence of an opposable thumb, the same feature that allows primates from humans to chimpanzees to grab things like a tree branch, a banana, or a smartphone.
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