Scientists Discover Extremely Tiny Dinosaur Ancestor
Fossils of dinosaurs and pterosaurs discovered in many sites around the world were found in different sizes, but all were large. A recent discovery in Madagascar revealed a new tiny creature that belongs to the same species.
The new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the fossil reptile would have stood just 10 centimeters tall, and fed on flying insects, so it was named Kongonaphon kely or "tiny bug slayer".
The tiny bug slayer lived in the Triassic period (over 237 million years ago) in the south east of Madagascar.
According to the study, it may help explain the origins of flight in pterosaurs, the presence of "fuzz" on the skin of both pterosaurs and dinosaurs, and other questions about these charismatic animals.
The fossils of Kongonaphon were discovered in 1998 in Madagascar by a team of researchers led by the American Museum of Natural History, and this tiny specimen was jumbled in among the hundreds collected from the site over the years.
In a report published on the museum's website, Christian Kammerer, co-author and a former researcher at the American Museum of Natural History, said: "It took some time before we could focus on these bones, but once we did, it was clear we had something unique and worth a closer look. It indicates dinosaurs and pterosaurs emerged from a very small species."
Kammerer and his colleagues examined the creature's fossilized teeth, and the results suggested it ate insects.
A shift to insectivory, which is associated with small body size, may have helped them survive by occupying a niche different from their mostly meat-eating contemporaneous relatives.
The work also suggests that fuzzy skin coverings ranging from simple filaments to feathers, known on both the dinosaur and pterosaur sides of the ornithodiran tree, may have originated for thermoregulation in this small-bodied common ancestor.
"Heat retention in small bodies is difficult, and the mid-late Triassic was a time of climatic extremes, inferred to have sharp shifts in temperature between hot days and cold nights," explained Kammerer.