Scientists May Have Discovered the Ancestor of Dinosaurs in Madagascar

These little reptiles could also help explain the origin of flight in pterosaurs.
Fabienne Lang
Illustration of the Kongonaphon kelyAlex Boersma/American Museum of Natural History 

When you picture a dinosaur, you imagine a massive, sharp-toothed monolith that soars, stomps or runs as it looms above you with its huge mass. 

However, a newly discovered species found in Madagascar that lived 237 million years ago, which measures no more than four inches tall (10 centimeters) could well be the ancestor to these large dinosaurs, and even explain the origin of flying pterosaurs.

The findings were published in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.


A tiny species that started it all

The fossil reptile, named Kongonaphon kely, or "tiny bug slayer", may hold the answers as to why pterosaurs fly, why some fuzz appears on the skin of both pterosaurs and dinosaurs, and a number of other questions about these ancients creatures. 

"There’s a general perception of dinosaurs as being giants," said Christian Kammererresearch curator in paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a former Gerstner Scholar at the American Museum of Natural History.

"But this new animal is very close to the divergence of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and it’s shockingly small."

The origins of these two species is largely still a mystery, so this new finding could help shed some light on their history. 

Scientists May Have Discovered the Ancestor of Dinosaurs in Madagascar
The newly discovered species would have been furry and tiny, Source: American Museum of Natural History

"Recent discoveries like Kongonaphon have given us a much better understanding of the early evolution of ornithodirans. Analyzing changes in body size throughout archosaur evolution, we found compelling evidence that it decreased sharply early in the history of the dinosaur-pterosaur lineage," Kammerer further explained.

The Kongonaphon kely fossils were found in 1998 in Madagascar. "This fossil site in southwestern Madagascar from a poorly known time interval globally has produced some amazing fossils, and this tiny specimen was jumbled in among the hundreds we’ve collected from the site over the years," explained John Flynn, American Museum of Natural History Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals.

This discovery will help paleontologists better understand the lineages of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, as well as the important implications for their paelobiology. 

Scientists May Have Discovered the Ancestor of Dinosaurs in Madagascar
Size comparison of the Kongonaphon kely (left) and one of the earliest dinosaurs, Herrerasaurus, Source: American Museum of Natural History 


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