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Gliding lizard fossil (Xianglong zhaoi ). The skeleton was found in northeastern China, with its most striking feature the elongated ribs that helped to spread a wing-like membrane for gliding
Ancient lizard used ribs to fly.
Most animals with the ability to glide, such as “flying” frogs and squirrels, remain airborne with the help of a membrane spread between their toes, or between body and legs. Not so in the case of this “flying dragon”, however, which lived more than 130 million years ago, around the time of the dinosaurs.
A Chinese team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that this creature had a wing-like membrane spread between eight elongated ribs to the left and right of the lizard’s body, an unusual arrangement only seen today in the dragon lizards of southeast Asia.
The fossil specimen described by Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeonanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, and colleagues shows the complete skeleton, including the splayed ribs, and imprints from the skin of a lizard that lived in the Early Cretaceous period.
The six inch long skeleton of the insect eater was found in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China, and the species of lizard was named Xianglong zhaoi, after the Chinese for flying dragon and Zhao Dayu, one of the founders of the Liaoning Palaeontological Museum.
The team suggests that the rib-supported gliding membranes of the various lizard species arose by convergent evolution, the process by which different species come up with the same solution to the same problem, in this case how to glide.