Palaeontologists have unveiled an extraordinary prehistoric ‘flying’ reptile which lived 235 million years ago.
The kuehneosaurs glided through the subtropical forests of Europe using scaly ‘wings’ that could carry it distances of more than 30ft.
Experts say the lizard-like reptile, which grew up to 2ft long, used extensions of their ribs to form large gliding surfaces on the sides of their body.
The scientific community is united in the belief that birds descended from reptiles 50 million years later making the kuehneosaurs the world’s first ‘bird’.
The long-extinct species was first unearthed in the Britain by Archaeologists in the 1950s, but until now their aerodynamic capability had not been studied.
Their rudimentary ‘wings’ were always assumed to be some form of flying adaption, but scientists at the time lacked the necessary technology to test the theory.
But earlier this year, experts from Bristol University investigated both types of kuehneosaurs found in the UK – kuehneosuchus and kuehneosaurus – for the first time.
The team built lifesize models of the creatures and used techniques usually employed to test prototype aircraft – including a wind tunnel – to discover their amazing flying ability.
Their pioneering findings, published this week by the Paleontological Association, have turned the history of winged flight on its head.
Today German palaeobiologist Koen Stein, who led the study, said: ‘We didn’t think kuehneosaurs would have been very efficient in the air. But all the work up to now had been speculation.
‘So we decided to build models and test them in the wind tunnel in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Bristol University.
‘Surprisingly, we found that kuehneosuchus was aerodynamically very stable. Jumping from a tree, it could easily have crossed 9m (29ft) before landing on the ground.’
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