Researchers unearthed the "Monkeydactyl" in Liaoning, China - the first dinosaur with thumbs to ever be found.
  • Paleontologists have discovered the "Monkeydactyl" - a flying dinosaur with opposable thumbs.
  • This is the first time researchers have ever found dinosaurs with thumbs that could grasp objects.
  • The 160-million-year-old fossil was unearthed in Liaoning, China.
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This dinosaur isn't monkeying around.

Paleontologists have unearthed the first-of-its-kind fossil of a small flying dinosaur - that has thumbs.

Scientists have dubbed the new Jurassic-period specimen the "Monkeydactyl," for its opposable thumbs.

The newly-discovered species of pterosaur was likely a small, tree-dwelling creature with a wingspan of around 33 inches, that closely resembled a pterodactyl.

This 160-million-year-old fossil was found in Liaoning, China, and studied by an international team of researchers United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Denmark, and Japan - who confirmed through X-ray scans that it did indeed have thumbs.

The researchers behind the discovery confirmed in a study published this month that it was the oldest record of such a creature.

Its scientific name is Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, with "antipollicatus" meaning "opposite thumbed" in Greek.

Opposable thumbs are usually found in mammals like humans and apes - and some tree frogs - but this creature was an extremely rare reptile that could grasp objects.

The study's lead researcher, Xuanyu Zhou from the China University of Geosciences, said that the Tiaojishan palaeoforest in Liaoning, China, where this particular fossil was unearthed, was home to many organisms.

To survive, the Monkeydactyl likely eked out a "niche" for itself to avoid competing with other dinosaurs in the complex forest ecosystem, Zhou said.

Fion Waisum Ma, a co-author of the study and researcher at the University of Birmingham, said the discovery was made possible via micro-CT scans, so scientists could see through the rocks and make digital models of the dinosaur's limbs.

"This is an interesting discovery. It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposed thumb, and it is from a pterosaur, which wasn't known for having an opposed thumb," Ma said.

Rodrigo V. Pêgas, a researcher from the Federal University of ABC in Sao Bernardo, Brazil, who also worked on the project, said the Monkeydactyl probably hatched from eggs.

"Darwinopterans are a group of pterosaurs from the Jurassic of China and Europe, named after Darwin due to their unique transitional anatomy that has revealed how evolution affected the anatomy of pterosaurs throughout time," Pêgas said.

"They've always been considered precious fossils for these reasons and it is impressive that new Darwinopteran species continue to surprise us!"

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