Future Jurassic Park movies could feature a strange new beast in menagerie: a pterosaur nicknamed Monkeydactyl by its opposing thumbs.
This Jurassic-period flying reptile may be the first known animal that could touch the inside of the thumbs with the inside of the other fingers, according to researchers online on April 12 in Current Biology. That dexterity probably allowed Monkeydactyl to climb trees about 160 million years ago, perhaps to feed on insects and other prey that pterosaurs that did not climb did not, researchers say (SN: 21/12/18). The last half of the creature's official name, Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, comes from the words "opposite" and "thumb" in ancient Greek.
The fossilized remains of Monkeydactyl, unearthed in northeast China in 2019, are embedded in the rock. Thus, the team used micro-CT scanning to create a three-dimensional representation of the fossil. “With this detail, we can see the fossil from any angle and make sure the bones are in the right (original) place,” says study co-author Rodrigo Pêgas, a paleontologist at ABC’s Federal University in São Bernardo, Brazil.
X. Zhou et al / Current Biology 2021
X. Zhou et al/Current biology 2021
Those scans helped confirm that the skeleton had a well-preserved opposing finger on each hand. “Almost all modern animals that have opposite thumbs use them to climb trees,” says Pegasus, including primates and some frogs. That evidence, along with the apparent flexibility of the Monkeydactyl joints, suggests that this species was well suited for climbing tree branches.