Scientists say a very rare find of some 20 fossilized pterodactyls has produced the first clear confirmation of a controversial theory of evolution.
The fossils were found in north-east China earlier this year, entrenched in rock dating back 160 million years, and have been called "Darwinopterus" after the renowned naturalist Charles Darwin.
The creature's discovery has astounded scientists because their age puts them within two recognized groups of pterodactyls, primitive long-tailed forms and higher short-tail forms - and they display characteristics of both.
The combination of features indicates that the primitive pterodactyls evolved relatively quickly, and that certain groups of features changed at the same time.
Traditional evolutionary theory suggests that one feature - a tail for instance - would slowly develop over time.
"Darwinopterus came as quite a shock to us," said David Unwin, from the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies, which recognized the creature, along with researchers from the Geological Institute of Beijing.
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