Meet the 'Monkeydactyl' - a small flying dinosaur with opposable thumbs that was just discovered in China

Cheryl Teh
·2 min read
041321_mt_monkeydactyl_feat
Researchers unearthed a fossil in Liaoning, China, that is being dubbed the "Monkeydactyl" - the first dinosaur with thumbs to be found. Chuang Zhao/ University of Birmingham
  • Paleontologists have discovered a flying dinosaur with opposable thumbs dubbed the "Monkeydactyl."

  • This is the first time researchers have found dinosaurs with thumbs that could grasp objects.

  • The 160-million-year-old fossil was unearthed in Liaoning, China.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Paleontologists have unearthed a first-of-its-kind fossil of a small flying dinosaur - with thumbs.

Scientists have dubbed the new Jurassic-period specimen the "Monkeydactyl," for its opposable thumbs.

The newly discovered species of pterosaur was most likely a small, tree-dwelling creature with a wingspan of about 33 inches that closely resembled a pterodactyl.

The 160-million-year-old fossil was found in Liaoning, China, and studied by an international team of researchers from the UK, China, Brazil, Denmark, and Japan who used X-ray scans to conclude it did indeed have thumbs.

The researchers behind the discovery said in a study published this month that it was the oldest record of such a creature.

Its scientific name is Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, with the word antipollicatus meaning opposite-thumbed in Greek.

Opposable thumbs are usually found in mammals like humans and apes - and some tree frogs - but this creature was a rare reptile that could grasp objects.

The study's lead researcher, Xuanyu Zhou from the China University of Geosciences, said the Tiaojishan palaeoforest in Liaoning, China, where the fossil was unearthed, was home to many organisms.

To survive, the Monkeydactyl most likely eked out a "niche" for itself to avoid competing with other dinosaurs in the complex forest ecosystem, Zhou said.

Fion Waisum Ma, a coauthor of the study who is a researcher at the University of Birmingham, said the discovery was made possible via micro-CT scans, which allowed scientists to see through the rocks and make digital models of the dinosaur's limbs.

"This is an interesting discovery," Ma said. "It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposed thumb, and it is from a pterosaur, which wasn't known for having an opposed thumb."

Rodrigo V. Pêgas, a researcher from the Federal University of ABC in Sao Bernardo, Brazil, who also worked on the project, said the Monkeydactyl probably hatched from eggs.

"Darwinopterans are a group of pterosaurs from the Jurassic of China and Europe, named after Darwin due to their unique transitional anatomy that has revealed how evolution affected the anatomy of pterosaurs throughout time," Pêgas said.

"They've always been considered precious fossils for these reasons and it is impressive that new Darwinopteran species continue to surprise us!"

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