Dino Dexterity

Depiction of pterosaur with opposed thumbs in the forest.

Dinosaurs once ruled the Earth. But how did some get a GRIP on the skies and trees?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science. 

In northeastern China, paleontologists discovered a one-hundred-and-sixty million year old fossil. Trapped inside the rock was a flying pterosaur. With a uniquely HANDY feature!

Enter Xuanyu Zhou from the China University of Geosciences and colleagues. Using a micro-CT scanner, they took pictures of the fossil’s shape. And something caught their eye! Using the images, the team zoomed in and built a 3D model of the dinosaur’s hand. 

So what did they find? Just like us primates, this dino had OPPOSABLE THUMBS!! Zhou thinks the thumbs allowed the dinosaur to grasp onto tree branches. 

This fossil is the earliest evidence of opposed thumbs in Earth’s history! It provides new insight into thumb origins. This HANDY structure may have helped this flying dino thrive in the skies AND in the treetops! And helps me pick up my morning coffee. 

We give this pterosaur two thumbs up!

Reference: Zhou, X., Pêgas, R. V., Ma, W., Han, G., Jin, X., Leal, M. E. C., Bonde, N., Kobayashi, Y., Lautenschlager, S., Wei, X., Shen, C., & Ji, S. (2021). A new darwinopteran pterosaur reveals arborealism and an opposed thumb. Current Biology, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.030