Monkeydactyl: Prehistoric ‘Flying Monkey’ Indicates Tree-Climbing Prowess with Opposable Thumbs, Rewriting Ancient Primate Evolution

The newly described Jurassic pterosaur may be the oldest animal known to possess opposable thumbs

Researchers have bestowed a newly described species of Jurassic flying reptile with the nickname Monkeydactyl because it has opposable thumbs, reports Maria Temming for Science News.

Paleontologists discovered the 160-million-year-old fossilized pterosaur in an ancient forest called Tiaojishan near modern Liaoning, China. The creature’s scientific name is Kunpengopterus antipollicatus and it may be the earliest animal known to possess what appears to be an opposable thumb.

The authors of the new research, published earlier this week in the journal Current Biology, suggest this opposable thumb, which could have given the pterosaur the ability to more effectively grasp objects in its environment, may have allowed K. antipollicatus to live in the trees.

To better understand the structure and function of the new pterosaur’s anatomy, the team scanned the fossil using micro-computerized tomography, an imaging technique that uses X-rays to create a 3-D image of an object by scanning it slice by slice. Analysis of Monkeydactyl’s forelimb morphology made researchers think it would have been well-suited for climbing, according to a statement.

Researchers also examined the question of whether K. antipollicatus was arboreal by studying its skeleton and 25 other pterosaur species alongside more than 150 other species known for tree climbing. The researchers say these comparisons also confirmed the Monkeydactyl moniker was appropriate, showing the animal could have had the right musculature and joint flexibility for climbing.

Moreover, several pterosaurs that lived around the same time and location as K. antipollicatus lacked opposable thumbs and don’t appear to have been tree climbers.

“Our results show that K. antipollicatus has occupied a different niche from Darwinopterus and Wukongopterus, which has likely minimized competition among these pterosaurs,” says Xuanyu Zhou, a paleontologist at the China University of Geosciences and the study’s lead author, in the statement.

But Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley who was not involved in the research, tells Isaac Schultz of Gizmodo that “an opposable thumb is not an infallible indication of arboreality.” For example, Padian tells Gizmodo that otters and raccoons have opposable thumbs but aren’t arboreal.

Padian also questions whether the position of K. antipollicatus’ proposed thumb in the fossil is indicative of the digit’s orientation in life.

“The bottom line, for me, is that the specimen’s articular surfaces are too poorly preserved to draw an inference of opposability,” he tells Gizmodo. “I think we would want more and better-preserved examples of this species before jumping to conclusions.”

Sia

Related Posts

Unveiling Ancient Titans: Discovery of Pre-T. Rex Giant Dinosaur Reshapes Understanding of Prehistoric Predatory Hierarchy

Tyrannosaurs reign as the most famous of all meat-eating dinosaurs. But they didn’t always dominate, suggests the newly discovered bones of a massive carnivorous dinosaur that lived…

Once in a Lifetime Discovery: Mammoth Jaw Dating Back at Least 10,000 Years Emerges from the Depths of a Florida River

Fossil enthusiast John Kreatsoulas thought the artifact was a log, before he realized he was holding a bone from the last ice age. John Kreatsoulas pulled the…

100-Million-Year-Old Frog, Eggs in Belly, Likely Met a Gripping Fate During Ancient Mating Ritual

Frogs from the Mesozoic are rarely found in the fossil record, particularly those with eggs preserved. Image credit: Baoxia Du et al., Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,…

100-Million-Year-Old Frog, Eggs Inside, Entangled in Gripping Fate During Prehistoric Mating Ritual

Frogs from the Mesozoic are rarely found in the fossil record, particularly those with eggs preserved. Image credit: Baoxia Du et al., Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,…

Researchers Unearth Previously Unknown Mass Extinction Event Shaping Africa’s Enigmatic Past 30 Million Years Ago

Sixty-three percent. That’s the proportion of mammal species that vanished from Africa and the Arabian Peninsula around 30 million years ago, after Earth’s climate shifted from swampy…

Researchers Discover Previously Unknown Mass Extinction Event 30 Million Years Ago Unfolding Across the Enigmatic Terrain of Africa

Sixty-three percent. That’s the proportion of mammal species that vanished from Africa and the Arabian Peninsula around 30 million years ago, after Earth’s climate shifted from swampy…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *