Scientists Discovered A Tiny Relative Of Dinosaurs And Pterosaurs

Life restoration of Kongonaphon kely

Life restoration of Kongonaphon kely, a newly described reptile near the ancestry of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, shown to scale with human hands. The fossils of Kongonaphon were found in Triassic (~237 million years ago) rocks in southwestern Madagascar and demonstrate the existence of remarkably small animals along the dinosaurian stem. Art by Frank Ippolito, ©American Museum of Natural History

By Anthony McLennan / Truth Theory

Fossils found in Madagascar suggest that dinosaurs’ ancestors could have been small enough to fit in the palm of a human hand.

When most of us think of dinosaurs, we think of massive beasts, perhaps several times the size of an elephant or as large as the biggest of whales. The Titanosaurs, for example, is believed to have weighed up to 90 tons. And although we know that smaller dinosaurs did exist, the thought of one fitting comfortably into a person’s hand would have seemed inconceivable to many people.

But now, after additional analysis on Kongonaphon fossils which were discovered in Triassic rocks (~237 million years ago) in 1998 in Madagascar, there seems to be a strong case to suggest that dinosaurs’ ancestors were once only as big, or rather as small, as 10 centimeters.

Kongonaphon-Alex Boersma

Life restoration of Kongonaphon kely, a newly described reptile near the ancestry of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, in what would have been its natural environment in the Triassic (~237 million years ago).
© Alex Boersma

The tiny bug slayer

The mini dinosaur’s full name is ‘Kongonaphon kely’, or ‘tiny bug slayer’ – derived from both ancient Greek and the Malagasy language.

The latest findings were released in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month.

“Although dinosaurs and gigantism are practically synonymous,” read part of the published report, “an analysis of body size evolution in dinosaurs and other archosaurs in the context of this taxon and related forms demonstrates that the earliest-diverging members of the group may have been smaller than previously thought, and that a profound miniaturization event occurred near the base of the avian stem lineage.”

Kongonaphon compared

Body size comparison between the newly discovered Kongonaphon kely and one of the earliest dinosaurs, Herrerasaurus.
Silhouettes from by Scott Hartman (CC BY 3.0) and AMNH/Frank Ippolito.

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The fossils which were found, have been linked to both dinosaurs and flying pterosaurs (huge flying reptiles, which weighed up to 250 kilograms), both of which belong to the group Ornithodira.

Little is known about the origin of Ornithodiras. But this new report suggests that a the presence of “fuzz” on the skin of both pterosaurs and dinosaurs could be linked with them having a common ancestor – the ‘Kongonaphon kely’, or ‘tiny bug slayer’.


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