Nerdist readership: You are not the only ones who are passionate about both dinosaurs and martial arts movies. Paleontologists have just unearthed a new species of pterodactyl in the same Chinese desert where parts of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed, causing them to dub the species Kryptodrakon progenitor, the first part of which is Latin for “hidden dragon.” And believe it or not, the movie reference isn’t the most meaningful part of this story – the animal represents the oldest known pterodactyl species, i.e., the oldest known flying vertebrate.
Where the remaining bones would have fit into the original critter. Kryptodrakon was no monster, having only a 4.5′ wingspan. (Brian Andres)
Kryptodrakon‘s bone fragments were actually first found in 2001 in the remote Shishiugou Formation. This formation has also been called the “dinosaur death pit” (not a bad title for a martial arts movie either), since a former pit of quicksand consumed so many dinosaurs there. As can easily happen when you’re left with only a handful of old bones, Kryptodrakon was originally misidentified as two-legged, zero-winged dino called a theropod. It was only after the skeleton – or what was left of it – was assembled that researchers realized this was not a gravity-enslaved bi-ped, but rather the oldest known pterodactyl.
Bird bones. Researchers have dated Kryptodrakon to 163 million years old. (Brian Andres)
One interesting notion surrounding Kryptodrakon is that it was not a coastal animal, like later forms of pterosaurs were. This theory is based on where the bones were found, but also on a single wing bone that was significantly wider than those in other pterosaur species. Some feel that broader wings would have allowed Kryptodrakon to navigate through the obstacle-packed surface of a terrestrial environment.
Scientists are already saying that this will be one of the biggest pterosaur stories of the year – that is until they find one they can name after Kung Pow! Enter the Fist.