New Mini-Pterodactyl Among Smallest Known

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The feet indicate that the animal was adapted to living in trees, Kellner said.

It likely darted across the dinosaur-dominated forests and lakes of the early Cretaceous period while feasting on insects, he added.

Thomas Holtz, a paleontologist at the University of Maryland, said that the discovery of the new fossil adds to evidence that the massive pterosaurs of the late Cretaceous evolved from smaller tree-living ancestors.

"The most primitive pterosaurs were small arboreal animals," Holtz noted.

The largest of the pterosaurs, Quetzalcoatlus, lived about 85 million years ago and "is regarded as the largest flying animal of all time," Kellner said.

The recently unearthed fossil therefore "opens a new chapter on the evolutionary history of this group of volant [flying] reptiles," he said.

Fossil Treasure Trove

Xu Xing, one of China's most well-known dinosaur hunters, said that the area where the mini-pterosaur was found was once dotted with active volcanoes that preserved a vast array of ancient species in ash about 120 million years ago.

Past digs in the area have uncovered the parrot-beaked Psittacosaurus, the small carnivorous Microraptor, sauropods, iguanodontians, and a number of primitive birds, Holtz said.

The new fossil, Kellner said, indicates that "Asia certainly played a major role in the origin of [later] pterosaurs."

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