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Researchers Find One of The Most Primitive Species Of Flying Reptiles In China

Update Date: Apr 25, 2014 12:03 PM EDT

An international team of researchers have found the most primitive pterodactyloid known that flew high above the earth, existing some 163 million years ago. 

The study is based on a fossil discovered in northwest China in 2001. Researchers found the fossil buried in a mudstone of the Shishugou Formation 35 meters below an ash bed. Researchers said the fossil came from the same area that also produced one of the oldest tyrannosaurs: Guanlong.

The team has named the newly discovered species : Kryptodrakon progenitor.

"This finding represents the earliest and most primitive pterodactyloid pterosaur, a flying reptile in a highly specialized group that includes the largest flying organisms," said Chris Liu, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences in the press release. "The research has extended the fossil record of pterodactyloids by at least five million years to the Middle-Upper Jurassic boundary about 163 million years ago."

According to experts, the discovery provides novel information on the evolution of pterodactyloids. The place where the fossil was found was likely a flood plain during the time  it existed, they added. 

"He (Kryptodrakon progenitor) fills in a very important gap in the history of pterosaurs," said paleontologist Brian Andres, lead researcher from USF, in a statement. "With him, they could walk and fly in whole new ways."

The research further suggested that the pterosaurs belonged to a diverse group of Mesozoic flying reptile that underwent a body plan reorganization, adaptive radiation and replacement of earlier forms midway. This huge transformation finally led to the origins of Pterodactyloidea.

"Kryptodrakon is the second pterosaur species we've discovered in the Shishugou Formation and deepens our understanding of this unusually diverse Jurassic ecosystem," said Dr. Clark, GW's Ronald B. Weintraub Professor of Biology, in the press release. "It is rare for small, delicate fossils to be preserved in Jurassic terrestrial deposits, and the Shishugou fauna is giving us a glimpse of what was living alongside the behemoths like Mamenchisaurus."

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

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