It soared across the sky, had opposing thumbs and lived in China during the Jurassic era: Meet “Monkeydactyl” – a newly discovered ancient dinosaur.
The bizarre Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, aptly named Monkeydactyl, lived in a forest ecosystem 160 million years ago, an international research team said in a report published in the journal Current Biology on Monday. Antipollicatus means “opposite thumb” in ancient Greek.
Pterosaurs were the first known vertebrates to fly, researchers said. Thatmarks the oldest of its kind with true opposing thumbs, a phenomenon never before seen in the species.
The discovery also marks the earliest known record of a true opposite thumb in Earth̵
Researchers found the Monkeydactyl fossil in the Tiaojishan Formation in Liaoning, China in September 2019. Using micro-CT scans to enlarge the anatomical features, they found the small fossil retained both hands, which contained an opposite “pollex” or thumb on every .
“The fingers of ‘Monkeydactyl’ are small and partially embedded in the plate. Thanks to micro-CT scanning, we were able to look through the rocks, create digital models and tell how the opposite thumb articulates with the other finger bones,” co-author Fion Waisum Ma said in a declaration. “This is an interesting discovery. It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposite thumb, and it is from a pterosaur – which was not known to have an opposite thumb.”
An opposite thumb is extremely rare among reptiles – they are often found in humans and other mammals.
Researchers say that Monkeydactly, a type of darwinopteran named after Charles Darwin, used his thumb for climbing and grabbing, an adaptation to live in trees. In addition to the thumbs, the researchers determined that the animal was very small with a wingspan of approx. 33 inches.
It managed to avoid most competition in its complex forest habitat, which contained closely related species that adapted to different niches.
“Darwinopterans are a group of pterosaurs from the Jurassic of China and Europe, named after Darwin because of their unique transition anatomy that has revealed how evolution affected the anatomy of pterosaurs over time,” said co-author Rodrigo V. Pêgas. “On top of that, a particular Darwinopteran fossil has been preserved with two associated eggs revealing traces of reproduction of pterosaurs. They have always been considered precious fossils for these reasons, and it is impressive that new Darwinopteran species continue to surprise us. ! “