Insectivorous Archosaur Discovered in Madagascar

A new genus and species of archosaur has been unearthed in Madagascar!

22 years ago, a fragmentary skeleton of a tiny ornithodiran was discovered by paleontologists in Madagascar’s Makay Formation, located in the Morondava Basin of Southwest Madagascar. The discovery was initially made in 1998, yet it was analyzed in 2019, and finally formally named and described in 2020. This archosaur, named Konganophon kely, was an insectivore growing only to about 4 inches in height, resulting in the meaning of its name being: “Tiny Bug Slayer”. Paleontologists regard this animal as being a close evolutionary relative to both dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

An accurate reconstruction of Konganophon. Artist Credit: Alex Boersma

Konganophon would have enjoyed living in a hot, humid environment dominated by archaic plants. This environment was home to a variety of other archosaurs, including allokotosaurians and pseudosuchids. Also present were phytosaurs, rhynchosaurs, and even silesaurid dinosauriformes. Though this animal bears many resemblances to dinosaurs, phylogeneticists believe it to be closer related to pterosaurs due to similarities within its bone structure to early pterosaurs. Konganophon is noted to have hard, conical teeth designed for puncturing insects with tough shells and exoskeletons. This is a niche occupied to avoid competition with other exclusively carnivorous animals. The fuzzy coat on Konganophon would have helped with thermoregulation. Specifically heat retention, as retaining a favorable temperature is difficult in such a small body.

This animal is the only lagerpetid to be found in Africa so far, and also the only lagerpetid with intact maxilla and tooth fossils.

(A) right femur in anterolateral, (B) posteromedial, and (C) proximal views; (D) right maxilla in right lateral and (E) palatal views; (F) preserved elements in the holotype, presented in a silhouette of Kongonaphon kely. Abbreviations: aof – antorbital fenestra, at – anterior trochanter, fht – tip of femoral head, fp mx – facial process of maxilla, ft – fourth trochanter, mx f – maxillary foramen, pf – palatine fossa, pmt – posterior medial tubercle, t – maxillary tooth. Image credit: Frank Ippolito / American Museum of Natural History.

 

  • Christian F. Kammerer et al. A tiny ornithodiran archosaur from the Triassic of Madagascar and the role of miniaturization in dinosaur and pterosaur ancestry. PNAS, published online July 6, 2020; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1916631117

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