The world’s first gliding reptile evolved 260 million years ago thanks to changes in its canopy, a new study suggests.
Researchers have compiled fossils of Coelurosauravus elivensis, an extinct reptile species whose name means “hollow lizard grandfather.”
The remains suggest the species evolved from its ancestors to grow a patagium — a wing-like membrane on each side — to facilitate flight.
This allowed it to adapt from a habitat where the trees went from densely packed trees to one where trees were more separated.
As the trees moved further apart, the species could no longer clamber between the branches, so it had to adapt to slide between the branches.
Coelurosauravus elivensis evolved from its ancestors to grow a patagium — a wing-like membrane on each side — so it could glide through the air
Researchers looked at near-perfect fossils of the reptile to discover that it was a change in the 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 reptile species that lived during the Late Permian – between 260 million and 252 million years ago.
It is part of the genus Coelurosauravus, a name meaning “hollow lizard grandfather.”
Coelurosauravus elivensis evolved from its ancestors to grow a patagium — a wing-like membrane on each side — so it could glide through the air.
C. elivensis – the sole member of the genus Coelurosauravus – lived during the Late Permian, between 260 million and 252 million years ago.
An artist’s impression of C. elivensis shows a bizarre looking creature, like something between a lizard and a butterfly.
The new study was conducted by experts from the French National Museum of Natural History, Paris, and the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe, Germany.
“These dragons weren’t forged in mythological fire — they just had to move from place to place,” said study author Valentin Buffa of the Center de Recherche en Paléontologie Paris at the French Museum of Natural History.
“It turned out that gliding was the most efficient mode of transport and here, in this new study, we see how their morphology made this possible.”
The only known specimens of Coelurosauravus were collected in 1907-1908 in southwestern Madagascar.
Nearly 20 years later, in 1926, the specimens were described as C. elivensis by French paleontologist Jean Piveteau.
For the new study, Buffa and colleagues examined three known fossils of C. elivensis, as well as a number of related specimens, all belonging to the family Weigeltisauridae.
Fossils of Weigeltisaurids – characterized by long, hollow rod-shaped bones – have been found in Madagascar, Germany, the UK and Russia.
Researchers have compiled fossils of Coelurosauravus elivensis, an extinct reptile species whose name means “hollow lizard grandfather.” Pictured is a C. elivensis fossil (A) with a silicone mold copy (B)
At the top is the imprint of the creature in rock, “preserved as a natural fungus.” Bottom shows silicone casts of top
‘DRAGON OF DEATH’ ANCIENT FLYING REPTILE unearthed IN ARGENTINI
The fossilized remains of a huge flying reptile called the ‘Dragon of Death’ – which lived alongside the dinosaurs 86 million years ago – have been unearthed in Argentina.
At about 9 meters in length, it is the largest pterosaur discovered in South America and one of the largest flying vertebrates that ever lived.
Experts said the “beast” likely would have been a terrifying sight as it hunted its prey from the prehistoric skies.
The study focused on the postcranial part — all parts of the body except the head, including the trunk, limbs, and the remarkable gliding apparatus known as the patagium.
The patagium is the membranous flap that spans the front and hind legs and is also found in living animals such as flying squirrels, sugar gliders and colugos.
Previous analyzes of the reptile had assumed that its patagium was supported by bones extending from the ribs, as in modern Draco species in Southeast Asia.
Today, lizard species in the genus Draco amaze observers with its gliding flights among the rainforest trees it inhabits.
Like Draco lizards, C. elivensis was able to grab its patagium with its front claws, stabilize it in flight and even adjust it “for more maneuverability,” Buffa said.
But C. elivensis probably also had sharp, curved claws and a ‘compressed body shape’ that made it perfectly adapted to lifting logs vertically – so it was an adept climber, as well as a glider.
“The similarity in the length of the fore and hind legs further indicates that it was an accomplished climber,” Buffa said.
Their proportional height helped it stay close to the surface of the tree, preventing it from tipping over and losing balance.
“Its long, slender body and whip-like tail, also seen in contemporary tree reptiles, further support this interpretation.”
Today, lizard species of the genus Draco amaze observers with their gliding flights among the rainforest trees. Pictured, Draco volans, also commonly known as the common flying dragon
The patagium is the membranous flap that spans the front and hind legs, also found in living animals such as flying squirrels, sugar gliders (pictured) and colugos
The study also suggested that the patagium of C. elivensis may have extended from the gastralia — an arrangement of bones in the skin that covers the abdomens of some reptiles, including crocodilians and dinosaurs.
This would mean that the gliding device sat lower on the abdomen than in modern gliding lizards.
‘C. elivensis bears a striking resemblance to the modern-day Draco genus,’ Buffa said.
“While his habits were probably similar to those of his modern counterpart, we see subtle differences.”
The new study is published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
WORLD’S BIGGEST PTEROSAUR JUMPED INTO THE AIR SO IT COULD FLY, STUDY FINDS
The world’s largest pterosaur jumped into the air so it could lift off the ground to fly 70 million years ago, a 2021 study found.
Experts analyzed fossils of Quetzalcoatlus — the largest known airborne animal — found in West Texas’ Big Bend National Park, to estimate the launch order.
They say the mammoth creature probably jumped at least 8 feet to get into the air before taking off by sweeping its massive wingspan, which could measure as much as 40 feet.
The launching method was similar to today’s egrets and herons, but it was more like a modern condor and vulture in terms of how it soared gracefully through the air.
In six papers published as monographs by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists and an artist provide the most complete picture yet of Quetzalcoatlus.