How changing forests caused reptiles to take to the air

(ORDO NEWS) — Almost a quarter of a billion years ago, an amazing creature lived in the territory of modern Madagascar – coelurosaurus, the first gliding reptile on Earth, gliding through the air 50 million years before the appearance of the first pterosaurs.

Now scientists have found a possible answer to the question of why the coelurosaurus needed to learn to fly at all.

About 260 million years ago, during the Permian period , a reptile lived on Earth, remarkably resembling a modern flying dragon living in the forests of Southeast Asia. It was described as early as 1926 and named coelurosaurus , or “hollow ancestor lizard”. It is considered the first reptile on the planet to master gliding flight.

However, how did it even occur to terrestrial vertebrates to jump from trees to glide through the air? Scientists believe that they have found the answer in the form of the crowns of the late Permian forests – it was they who contributed to the development of the qualities necessary for flight in the ancestors of coelurosaurus.

As the researchers found out, the forests of the early Permian period resembled pine forests and were quite light: there were large distances between the crowns of trees, which it was impossible to cross without the use of active flight.

But in the late Permian, the forests “compacted the buildings”, so that the planning animal had a chance, jumping off the trunk, to fly to the nearest neighboring tree.

It is not surprising that in the Late Permian and Early Triassic , several species of “flying lizards” arose at once, which used skin membranes on the sides of the body to glide.

With a lean build, long prehensile fingers, and a whip-like tail necessary for balance, coelurosauruses dexterously moved through the trees, sometimes breaking into a short flight.

How changing forests caused reptiles to take to the air 2
One of three known Coelurosaurus fossils, original (A) and cast (B)

Naturally, coelurosauruses could not flap “wings”, only moderately maneuvered while gliding, so they were not able to climb on their own and lived only in dense forests, where there were many potential “airstrips”.

Perhaps for this reason, this method of locomotion has not been widely used among terrestrial vertebrates. And in the future, not gliders, but active flyers such as pterosaurs, birds and bats, began to dominate the sky.


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