Darwinopterus facts for kids

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Darwinopterus
Temporal range: Middle Jurassic, 160 million years ago
D. modularis fossil
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Pterosauria
Suborder: Rhamphorhynchoidea
Type species
Darwinopterus modularis
et al., 2010
Species

D. modularis et al., 2010
D. linglongtaensis Wang et al., 2010
D. robustodens et al., 2011

Darwinopterus (meaning "Darwin's wing") is a genus of pterosaur, discovered in China and named after Charles Darwin. It is the first known pterosaur to display features of both long-tailed (rhamphorhynchoid) and short-tailed (pterodactyloid) pterosaurs. Darwinopterus is a transitional fossil between the two groups.

Between 30 and 40 fossil specimens have been found, all collected from the Tiaojishan Formation, which dates to the Middle Jurassic, 160 million years ago (mya). The type species, D. modularis, was described in February 2010.

Two additional species, D. linglongtaensis and D. robustodens, were described from the same fossil beds in December 2010 and June 2011, respectively.

The specimens showed sexual dimorphism: the males had crests on their heads, and narrower hips than the females.

Mosaic features

This genus, and its near relatives, show a combination of 'primitive' (basal) and 'advanced' (derived) pterosaurian features. This is characteristic of transitional fossils ('missing links'), and is called modular evolution or mosaic evolution.

Darwinopterus had long tails and other features of rhamphorhynchoids, they also had distinct pterodactyloid features, such as long vertebrae in the neck and a single skull opening in front of the eyes.

Eggs

The specimen preserved along with an egg gave information on the reproductive strategies of Darwinopterus and pterosaurs in general.

Like the eggs of later pterosaurs and modern reptiles, the eggs of Darwinopterus had a parchment-like, soft shell. In modern birds, the eggshell is hardened with calcium carbonate, completely shielding the embryo from the outside environment. Soft-shelled eggs are permeable to water, and allow significant amounts to be absorbed into the egg during development. Eggs of this type are more vulnerable to the elements and are typically buried in soil.

David Unwin, a co-author of the paper, suggested that Darwinopterus probably laid many small eggs at a time and buried them. Juveniles could fly upon hatching, and required little to no parental care.

These results imply that reproduction in pterosaurs was more like that in modern reptiles and significantly differed from reproduction in birds.

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