Scientists Unearth Fossils of 'Missing Link' Flying Reptiles

Researchers believe Darwinopterus is proof of modular evolution
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2009 2:04 AM CDT
Darwinopterus was a crow-sized carnivore that existed 160 million years ago.   (Lü Junchang/Geological Institute, Beijing)

(Newser) – Scientists have discovered the remains of a flying reptile in China that they believe represents the "missing link" in a controversial theory of evolution. The reptile—named Darwinopterus in honor of Charles Darwin—lived some 160 million years ago and has features from both early, short-tailed pterodactyls and their huge, long-tailed descendants. "It’s as if someone said, ‘Let’s nail these two together and make a sort of chimera; that’ll really confuse everybody," one scientist said.

Darwinopterus appears to have evolved quickly, scientists say, changing whole series of traits at a time instead of single features in an example of "modular evolution." The fossils provide "hard evidence for that kind of pattern,” one expert told Science News. “The challenge now is to find the genetic mechanism that would allow this to happen."