When we think of large dinosaurs, the gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex comes to mind that once stood at a staggering 15 to 20 feet in height. And the recently discovered remains of an ancient Pterosaur in Canada revealed that it was the same size as a small plane. With that being said, it’s a little hard to believe that one of their ancient ancestors was so small that it was just four inches tall.
Named Kongonaphon kely or “tiny bug slayer”, this miniature lizard’s remains were quite well preserved and included parts of its skull and limbs. It lived approximately 240 million years ago in what is now Madagascar. In addition to being tiny, it had bristles, sharp claws, and teeth which enabled it to eat insects.
While it was unearthed back in 1998, it was discovered along with such a large number of other bones that it took scientists all this time to figure out that some of the remains belonged to the Kongonaphon kely. This is in fact a pretty significant discovery as this ancient ancestor of much bigger dinosaurs and pterosaurs is believed to be a “missing link” in regards to the history of vertebrates.
Dr. Christian Kammerer, who is a palaeontologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences as well as the lead author of the study, explained that while most people categorize all dinosaurs as being large creatures, “this new animal is very close to the divergence of dinosaurs and pterosaurs - and it's shockingly small.”
Some large dinosaurs and pterosaurs belonged to a group of reptiles called Ornithodira but their origins were previously unknown because of very little evidence found of their ancestors. “Recent discoveries like Kongonaphon have given us a much better understanding of the early evolution of ornithodirans,” explained Professor John Flynn from the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and the leader of the expedition. He went on to say, “Analyzing changes in body size throughout archosaur evolution, we found compelling evidence it decreased sharply early in the history of the dinosaur-pterosaur lineage.”
Additionally, they found that the fuzzy skin (and even feathers) that have been discovered on some dinosaurs and pterosaurs could have originated with the Kongonaphon kely because they would have needed some form of heat retention due to the extreme changes in temperatures during the mid to late Triassic period.
It’s amazing to think that the large dinosaurs and pterosaurs that died out 66 million years ago had originated from relatives over 200 million years ago that were just four inches tall. Reconstructive illustrations of what the Kongonaphon kely looked like can be seen here.