By the end of the Jurassic period, most primitive species of the order Pterosaurs became extinct. But one lineage of the order evolved rather quickly into pterodactyloids, and managed to survive.
These were some of the largest creatures ever to take to the skies, says University of South Florida paleontologist Brian Andres.
A 162.7 million-year-old fossil of the oldest pterodactyloid species unearthed in northwest China sheds light on how such species adapted to their environments.
Chris Sloan, formerly with National Geographic and now president of media company Science Visualization, first spotted the fossil in 2001.
At that time researchers had mistakenly associated the bones with two-legged dinosaur called a theropod. Later detailed examination of the delicate fossil bones revealed that the species not only belonged to the order Pterosaur (the first reptiles to develop active flight) but was also a new pterodactyloid species altogether.
Fossil remains of the newly discovered pterodactyloid dubbed Kryptodrakon progenitor, which translates into 'Hidden Dragon,' indicate that the pterodactyloids differed from other Pterosaurs in certain morphological characteristics. The wing of the dragon was supported by the fourth finger and the first bone of that finger (known as metacarpal) was long compared to that of other Pterosaurs.