Leaping Lizards

250 MYA

New forms of life launch into the air, occupying previously untapped habitats. Although birds, bats, and insects are aeronautical experts, no Earth organism is known to spend its entire life in the air.

Coelurosauravus jaekeli, one of the first known reptiles to take to the air, has a "totally bizarre" wing design. With membranes connected to hollow-rod skin structures, the fossil lizard's wings more resemble hang-gliding gear than the transformed forearms with which birds and bats keep themselves aloft. Based on a 1997 find, paleontologists suspect that the hang-gliding habit allowed the lizard to sail following a running or falling start.

Top: Coelurosauravus in flight. (Illustration by Jan Sovak)

Bottom: Ponder this amphibian's future. (Photograph by Nic Bishop, courtesy New England Science Center)

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