‘Hidden dragon’ fossil is oldest flying reptile

The pterodactyl Kryptodrakon progenitor lived 163 million years ago

Fossil fragments of the flying reptile, Kryptodrakon progenitor, uncovered in northwest China, belong to the earliest known pterodactyl species, which lived about 163 million years ago.

Illustration courtesy of Brian Andres

Deep beneath an ash bed in an area of northwest China famed for its mud-filled “dinosaur death pits” that snared all sorts of prehistoric creatures, researchers have unearthed the oldest pterodactyl fossil ever discovered.

Named Kryptodrakon progenitor, or “hidden serpent first-born” for its discovery near the filming site for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the ancient flying reptile lived about 163 million years ago. The new find pushes the fossil record for this type of pterosaur back more than five million years to the boundary between the middle and late Jurassic period.

Researchers pieced together fragile fossil fragments of Kryptodrakon’s spindly skeleton, which once belonged to an adult with a wingspan of 1.47 meters, about as long as a bicycle, Brian Andres of the University of South Florida in Tampa and colleagues report April 24 in Current Biology.

Though petite, this winged reptile is the ancestor of what would eventually become the largest flying animals ever to soar over the Earth.

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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