An ancient reptile developed the ability to glide due to ‘changes in the tree canopy’
The world’s first gliding reptile evolved 260 million years ago through changes in the tree canopy, a new study has found.
Researchers have pieced together fossils of Coelurosauravus elivensis, an extinct species of reptile whose name means “grandfather hollow lizard.”
The remains suggest that the species evolved from its ancestors to develop a patagium – a wing-like membrane on each side – to facilitate flight.
This allowed him to adapt from a habitat where the trees went from dense to a habitat where the trees were more separated.
When the trees moved away from each other, the species could no longer squeeze between the branches, so it had to adapt to slip between them.
Coelurosauravus elivensis evolved from its ancestors to develop a patagium – a wing-like membrane on either side – so it could glide through the air
Researchers examined near-perfect fossils of the reptile to find that it was a change in the tree canopy that likely facilitated such flight in these creatures. Pictured is a C. elivensis fossil (A) with a silicone mold copy (B)
‘HOLLOW LIZARD GRANDFATHER’
Coelurosauravus elivensis is the name of an extinct species of reptile that lived in the late Permian, between 260 and 252 million years ago.
It is part of the genus Coelurosauravus, a name which means “grandfather hollow lizard”.
Coelurosauravus elivensis evolved from its ancestors to develop a patagium – a wing-like membrane on each side – so that it could glide through the air.
C. elivensis – the only member of the genus Coelurosauravus – lived in the late Permian, between 260 and 252 million years ago.
An artist’s impression of C. elivensis depicts a bizarre creature, like something between a lizard and a butterfly.
The new study was conducted by experts from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe in Germany.
“These dragons weren’t forged in mythological fire – they simply needed to move from place to place,” said study author Valentin Buffa of the Paleontology Research Center. Paris from the French Museum of Natural History.
“Gliding was found to be the most efficient mode of transport and here in this new study we see how their morphology enabled this.”
The only known specimens of Coelurosauravus were collected in 1907-1908 in southwestern Madagascar.
Almost 20 years later, in 1926, the specimens were described by French paleontologist Jean Piveteau as C. elivensis.
For the new study, Buffa and her colleagues examined three known C. elivensis fossils, along with a number of related specimens, all of which belong to the Weigeltisauridae family.
Fossils of Weigeltisaurids – characterized by long hollow rod-like bones – have been found in Madagascar, Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia.
Researchers have pieced together fossils of Coelurosauravus elivensis, an extinct species of reptile whose name means “grandfather hollow lizard.” Pictured is a C. elivensis fossil (A) with a silicone mold copy (B)
The top shows the creature’s imprint in the rock, “preserved as a natural mold”. The bottom shows silicone castings from the top
THE “DRAGON OF DEATH” AN ANCIENT FLYING DETERMINED REPTILE IN ARGENTINA
The fossilized remains of a huge flying reptile dubbed the “Dragon of Death” – which lived alongside dinosaurs 86 million years ago – have been unearthed in Argentina.
Measuring approximately 9 meters in length, it is the largest pterosaur discovered in South America and one of the largest flying vertebrates to have ever lived.
Experts said the “beast” would likely have been a frightening sight as it hunted its prey across the prehistoric skies.
The research focused on the post-cranial part – all parts of the body except the head, including the torso, limbs and its remarkable gliding apparatus known as the patagium.
The patagium is the membranous flap covering the forelimbs and hindlimbs, also present in living animals such as flying squirrels, sugar gliders, and colugos.
A previous analysis of the reptile had assumed that its patagium was supported by bones that extended from the ribs, as is the case in modern Draco species from Southeast Asia.
Today, species of lizards of the genus Draco amaze observers with their gliding flights between the trees of the rainforest they inhabit.
Like Draco lizards, C. elivensis was able to grasp its patagium with its front claws, stabilize it during flight, and even adjust it “for greater maneuverability,” Buffa said.
However, C. elivensis also probably had sharp, curved claws and a “compressed body shape” which made it perfectly suited for moving vertically on tree trunks – so it was a skilled climber, as well as a glider .
“The similarity in forelimb and hindlimb length further indicates that it was an expert climber,” Buffa said.
“Their proportional length helped him stay close to the surface of the tree, preventing him from lurching and losing his balance.
“Its long, lean body and whip-like tail, also seen in contemporary arboreal reptiles, further support this interpretation.”
Today, species of lizards of the genus Draco amaze observers with their gliding flights between the trees of the rainforest. Pictured is Draco volans, also known as the common flying dragon
The patagium is the membranous flap covering the fore and hind limbs, also present in living animals such as flying squirrels, sugar gliders (pictured) and colugos.
The study also suggested that the patagium of C. elivensis may extend from the gastralia – an arrangement of bones in the skin that covers the bellies of some reptiles, including crocodilians and dinosaurs.
This would mean that the gliding apparatus sat lower on the abdomen than in modern gliding lizards.
‘VS. elivensis bears a striking resemblance to the contemporary genus Draco,” Buffa said.
“While its habits were likely similar to those of its modern counterpart, we see subtle differences.”
The new study was published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
WORLD’S LARGEST PTEROSAUR JUMPED INTO THE AIR TO FLY, STUDY SAYS
The world’s largest pterosaur jumped into the air so it could take off and fly 70 million years ago, according to a 2021 study.
Experts have analyzed fossils of Quetzalcoatlus – the largest known animal to fly – found in Big Bend National Park in West Texas to estimate its launch sequence.
They say the mammoth creature likely jumped at least 8ft to take flight before taking off sweeping its massive wingspan, which measured up to 40ft.
Its method of launching was similar to today’s egrets and herons, but it was more like a modern-day condor and vulture in terms of graceful flight through the air.
In six papers published as a monograph by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists and an artist provide the most comprehensive picture yet of Quetzalcoatlus.