New Mini-Pterodactyl Among Smallest Known

Kevin Holden Platt in Beijing, China
for National Geographic News
February 11, 2008

A new species of miniature flying reptile that lived more than 120 million years ago has been unearthed in China, researchers announced today.

The mini-pterosaur, dubbed Nemicolopterus crypticus, had a wingspan of only 10 inches (25 centimeters)—about the size of a modern sparrow. (See pictures of the tiny flying reptile.)

This is "one of the smallest pterosaurs known," said co-discoverer Alexander Kellner, an adjunct professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

The newfound creature might provide clues to the evolution of later, more massive pterosaurs, the largest of which measured nearly 40 feet (12 meters) from wing tip to wing tip.

(Related news: "Fossils Reveal Two New Species of Flying Reptiles" [October 5, 2005].)

Kellner and colleagues describe the new species in tomorrow's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Highly Diverse

Pterosaurs, which had wings formed of skin rather than feathers, first appeared about 215 million years ago and are believed to be the first flying vertebrates.

The animals thrived even as Earth's tectonic forces split the supercontinent Pangaea into multiple continents and oceans about 200 million years ago.

Pterosaurs had evolved into many shapes and sizes by the time they went extinct—along with the dinosaurs—about 65 million years ago.

A team of Chinese and Brazilian paleontologists found the N. crypticus fossil preserved in the fine siltstone of an ancient waterway in northeastern China.

The tiny pterosaur was a small, toothless reptile with curved foot bones that are similar to those of birds.

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