Archaeopteryx is famous as the world's oldest bird, but reptiles were flying about some 50 million years earlier than that (225 million years ago), even before large dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
A new study of extinct reptiles called kuehneosaurs, by scientists from the University of Bristol, England, shows that these early flyers used extraordinary extensions of their ribs to form large gliding surfaces on the side of the body. The results were published today in Palaeontology.
Kuehneosaurs, up to 70 centimetres (two feet) long, were first found in the 1950s in an ancient cave system near Bristol. Their lateral 'wings' were always assumed to be some form of flying adaptation, but their aerodynamic capability had never been studied before.