Longisquama

longisquama
Longisquama (Nobu Tamura).

Name:

Longisquama (Greek for "long scales"); pronounced LONG-ih-SKWA-mah

Habitat:

Woodlands of central Asia

Historical Period:

Middle Triassic (230-225 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About six inches long and a few ounces

Diet:

Probably insects

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small size; feather-like plumes on pack

 

About Longisquama

To judge by its single, incomplete fossil specimen, Longisquama was closely related to other small, gliding reptiles of the Triassic period like Kuehneosaurus and Icarosaurus.

The difference is that these latter reptiles possessed flat, butterfly-like wings of skin, whereas Longisquama had thin, narrow plumes jutting out from its vertebrae, the exact orientation of which is a continuing mystery. It's possible that these quill-like structures extended from side to side and gave Longisquama some "lift" when it jumped from branch to branch of high trees, or they may have stuck straight up and served a strictly decorative function, probably related to sexual selection.

Of course, it hasn't escaped the notice of scientists that Longisquama's frills seem to have stopped just short of being genuine feathers. A small handful of paleontologists have seized on this resemblance to propose that Longisquama may have been ancestral to birds--which would either cause this creature (which is tentatively classified as a diapsid reptile) to be reclassified as an early dinosaur or archosaur, or upend established thought entirely and trace modern birds back to an obscure family of gliding lizards.

Until more fossil evidence is found, though, the current theory (that birds evolved from feathered theropod dinosaurs) appears to be safe!

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Strauss, Bob. "Longisquama." ThoughtCo, Jan. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/overview-of-longisquama-1093433. Strauss, Bob. (2017, January 24). Longisquama. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/overview-of-longisquama-1093433 Strauss, Bob. "Longisquama." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/overview-of-longisquama-1093433 (accessed December 13, 2017).