During a recent excavation, scientists found evidence of fur on these flying reptiles. These reptiles were distant cousins of dinosaurs. When you think of dinosaurs, fur and feathers are not what first comes to mind. So, these recent findings are quite surprising.
This new information comes from a recent report from the University of China that identified four types of pycnofibers on two pterosaur remains. These fossils date back some 160 million years into the past. One of the pycnofibers was smooth and resembled fur, while the other three had branching structures similar to ones found in feathers.
Up until recently, it has been thought that only theropod dinosaurs had anything that even somewhat resembles feathers. This group of dinosaurs contains the likes of Tyrannosaurus rex, and they represent the ancestors of the birds we see around today.
The first discoveries that indicated that dinosaurs had complex feather-like structures were discovered back in 2014 when two specimens that come from the family of ornithischians were found. They both had hair like filaments preserved in their fossils.
Hair like structures were found before, but the findings in China are the first instance where we have branching filaments. Scientists are still unsure how these discoveries affect what we know about the evolution of feathers. These findings might mean that pterosaurs evolved to adapt to their surroundings and to keep warm. It might have also had something to do with aerodynamics.
A much more interesting fact is that these filaments may have the same origin as the feathers we see on birds today. If this is true, then it means that dinosaurs and the pterosaur shared a common ancestor which makes what we know about the evolution of dinosaurs a tad more interesting.