World's Smallest Pterosaur Fossils Discovered in China

February 28, 2008 12:00 am Last Updated: February 28, 2008 12:00 am

Scientists from China and Brazil discovered a new type of pterosaur fossils—dubbed Nemicolop teruscrypticus, or “hidden flying forest dweller”—in Jehol Biota of Liaoning Province, China. It lived in the Cretaceous era, about 120 million years ago. The sparrow-sized pterosaur has a wingspan of only 25cm and a weight from 30 to 50 grams. It is the world's smallest arboreal pterosaur fossil.

According to the Beijing Morning Post , the newly discovered forest pterosaur fossils were found in lacustrine sediments of the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation (about 120 million years ago), inYaolugou, Jianchang County, Huludao City, western Liaoning Province. A large number of fish, birds and feathered dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the area, which is an important fossil area in Jehol Biota. This research result was published in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The article said the pterosaur fossils are well preserved, almost forming a complete skeleton, with a long narrow mouth, big eyes and no teeth. It belongs to the variety of toothless pterosaurs. The petite-sized forest pterosaur has a wingspan of only 25cm, equivalent to a size of swallow or mahjong. The analysis showed that it was a matured young individual that was able to fly, despite of its wingspan of only 25 cm. These small pterosaurs can easily hide themselves in the bushes to avoid larger predators. Scientists believe that the forest pterosaur is the world's smallest toothless pterosaur and the smallest pterosaur in the Cretaceous era that has been discovered so far. It's even smaller than the hatchling pterosaur embryo (a wingspan of about 27 cm) discovered in Jehol Biota.

The forest pterosaur also has some characteristics that haven't been found before, for example, a well developed posterior process on the femur above the articulation with the tibia and the degree of curve of the penultimate phalanges of the foot. Scientists believe that these features do not accommodate pterosaurs to walking and running on the ground, but are the important morphological evidence of arboreal life.