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Monkeydactyl: Pterosaur Species

  • 16 Apr 2021
  • 4 min read

Why in News

The new pterosaur fossil was discovered in the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning, China, and is thought to be 160 million years old.

  • It has been named Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, also dubbed “Monkeydactyl”.

Tiaojishan Formation

  • Geographically, the Tiaojishan Formation is widely distributed in western Liaoning Province and the neighboring northern Hebei Province (China).
  • This formation is lithologically composed of intermediate lava and pyroclastic rocks, interlayered with basic volcanic rocks and sedimentary deposits.
  • It contains abundant and well-preserved fossil plants, including leaves, seeds and fruits, permineralized rhizomes and wood.

Key Points

  • About Pterosaurs:
    • The pterosaur species were reptiles, close cousins of dinosaurs and the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight.
    • They evolved into various species, while some were as large as an F-16 fighter jet, others were as small as paper airplanes.
    • They flourished during all periods (Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous) of the Mesozoic Era (252.2 million to 66 million years ago).
  • About the Monkeydactyl Fossil (Kunpengopterus antipollicatus):
    • “Antipollicatus” in ancient Greek means “opposite thumbs”, and it was attached to the name because the researchers’ findings could be the first discovery of a pterosaur with an opposed thumb.
      • It could likely be the earliest-known instance of the limb.
    • It is far older than the one identified in 2019.
      • Paleontologists had identified that species as a pterosaur that lived over 77 million years ago in what is Western Canada today.
      • Named Cryodrakon boreas, it was believed to be one of the largest flying animals, which “flew over the heads of dinosaurs”, with a wingspan of over 10 metres.
  • Opposability of the Thumb:
    • About:
      • Opposability of the thumb is defined as being able to “simultaneously flex, abduct and medially rotate the thumb” in a way that one is able to bring the tip of the thumb to touch the tips of the other fingers.
      • Along with humans, some ancient monkeys and apes also had opposable thumbs.
      • Humans, however, have a relatively longer and distally placed thumb, and larger thumb muscles.
        • This means that humans’ tip-to-tip precision grip when holding smaller objects is superior to non-human primates. This is the reason that humans are able to hold a pen, unscrew an earring stopper, or put a thread through a needle hole.
    • Monkeydactyl and Opposability of the Thumb:
      • The research team scanned the fossil of K. antipollicatus using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT), a technique making use of X-ray to image an object.
      • By studying its forelimb morphology and musculature, they suggest that K. antipollicatus could have used its hand for grasping, which is likely an adaptation for arboreal life (living in trees).
      • The grasping hands of primates developed as a result of their life in the trees — an opposable thumb made it easier for the common ancestor of all primates to cling on to tree branches.


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