Fossils: Flying reptile from 60 million years ago has the oldest true opposite INCHES

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Meet the Monkeydactyl! A new species of flying reptile has been discovered that lived in China 160 million years ago and has the oldest true opposite INCH

  • The fossil – ‘Kunpengopterus antipollicatus’ – was found in northeast China
  • It was a small pterosaur, with a wingspan on the order of 2.8 feet (85 cm)
  • This is the first time an opposite thumb has been found in a flying reptile
  • Analysis of the fossil creature hinted that it lived in trees and grabbed branches

The oldest known true counter thumb was found on a new species of arboreal flying reptile found in China that lived about 160 million years ago.

The tiny Jurassic pterosaur named ‘Monkeydactyl’ – which had a wingspan of 85 cm – was uncovered from the ‘Tiaojishan’ rock formations of Liaoning, China.

The opposite thumb, known to scientists as a ‘pollex’, is found in mammals and some tree frogs, but, with the exception of the chameleon, is rare in reptiles.

The new find reveals that so-called ‘Darwinoptera’ pterosaurs such as Monkeydactylus also developed opposite thumbs, a structure never seen before in flying reptiles.

The oldest known true counter thumb was found on a new species of arboreal flying reptile (pictured above) found in China that lived about 160 million years ago

The oldest known true counter thumb was found on a new species of arboreal flying reptile (pictured above) found in China that lived about 160 million years ago

“The fingers of” Monkeydactyl “are small and partially embedded in the plate,” said paleontologist Fion Waisum Ma of the University of Birmingham. Pictured: the fossil specimen Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, housed in the Beipiao Pterosaur Museum of China

OPPOSITE THUMBS VERSUS OPPOSITE THUMBS

Opposite thumbs are the thumbs attached opposite the fingers of the same hand.

In contrast, opposable thumbs – like ours – can be turned in and out of an opposite position.

‘Monkeydactyl’ had opposing, but not opposing thumbs.

“The fingers of” Monkeydactyl “are small and partially embedded in the plate,” said paper author and paleontologist Fion Waisum Ma of the University of Birmingham.

‘Thanks to micro-CT scanning, we were able to look through the rocks, make digital models and tell how the opposite thumb articulates with the other finger bones.

‘This is an interesting discovery. It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposite thumb, and it’s from a pterosaur – which was not known to have an opposite thumb, ” she added.

The formal name of Monkeydactyl is ‘Kunpengopterus antipollicatus’, with the species name meaning ‘opposite thumbed’ in Ancient Greek.

The team’s analysis of the fossilized bones indicated that the monkeydactyl may have used its hand to grip food, as well as to hold tree branches, suggesting it likely adapted to tree life.

However, analysis of other pterosaur species from the time suggests that they were not also adapted for tree-dwelling, and that they and Monkeydactyl occupied different ecological niches.

“Tiaojishan palaeoforest is home to many organisms, including three genera of Darwinoptera pterosaurs,” explains paper author Xuanyu Zhou of China University of Geosciences.

“Our results show that K. antipollicatus has occupied a different niche from Darwinopteran and Wukongopterus, which probably minimizes competition between these pterosaurs.”

“Micro-CT scanning allowed us to see through the rocks, create digital models and tell how the opposite thumb articulates with the other finger bones,” added Fion Waisum Ma. Pictured: A close-up of the fossilized hand with the thumb marked, left, with a digital model of the same on the right

“Darwinopterans are a group of pterosaurs from the Jurassic of China and Europe,” said paper author and vertebrate paleontologist Rodrigo Pêgas of ABC Federal University in Sao Bernardo, Brazil.

The group takes its name from the naturalist Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, he explained, “because of their unique transitional anatomy that revealed how evolution has influenced the anatomy of pterosaurs over time.”

“In addition, a certain Darwinoptera fossil has been preserved with two accompanying eggs, which reveal clues to the reproduction of pterosaurs.”

“For these reasons they have always been considered precious fossils and it is impressive that new Darwinoptera species keep surprising us!”

The full findings of the study have been published in the journal Current Biology

The small Jurassic pterosaur called 'Monkeydactyl' - which had a wingspan of 85 cm - was uncovered from the 'Tiaojishan' rock formations of Liaoning, China

Named 'Monkeydactyl', the tiny Jurassic pterosaur - which had a wingspan of 85 cm - was uncovered from the 'Tiaojishan' rock formations of Liaoning, China

Named ‘Monkeydactyl’, the tiny Jurassic pterosaur – which had a wingspan of 85 cm – was uncovered from the ‘Tiaojishan’ rock formations of Liaoning, China

PTEROSAURS WERE FLYING REPTILES THAT LIVE IN THE JURASSIC AND CRETE

Neither birds nor bats, pterosaurs were reptiles that ruled the heavens in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Scientists have long debated where pterosaurs fit on the evolutionary tree.

Today’s leading theory is that pterosaurs, dinosaurs and crocodiles are closely related and belong to a group known as archosaurs, but this has not yet been confirmed.

Neither birds nor bats, pterosaurs were reptiles that ruled the skies in the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras (artist image)

Neither birds nor bats, pterosaurs were reptiles that ruled the skies in the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras (artist image)

Neither birds nor bats, pterosaurs were reptiles that ruled the skies in the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras (artist image)

Pterosaurs evolved into dozens of species. Some were the size of an F-16 jet, and others the size of a sparrow.

They were the first animals after insects to develop powered flight – not just leaping or gliding, but flapping their wings to generate lift and travel through the air.

Pterosaurs had hollow bones, large brains with well-developed optic lobes, and several crests on their bones to which flight muscles were attached.

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