Science Daily makes the leather-winged terrors of the Jurassic seem downright cuddly with research that indicates pterosaurs might, in fact, have been soft and cuddly:
Researchers led by paleontologist Zixiao Yang of Nanjing University in China identified four types of filaments called pycnofibers on two fossil pterosaur specimens, both dated to around 165 million to 160 million years ago. One of the pycnofiber types was a single, smooth, filament that covered the bodies of both animals and may have kept them warm, like fur. The other three types, however, all showed branching structures extending out from a central filament — a key feature of feathers, the researchers say.
It’s not yet clear what the discovery that these pterosaurs had diverse, fuzzy coats might mean for the big picture of feather evolution. The pycnofibers may have evolved independently in pterosaurs, as an adaptation to keep the animals warm or for better aerodynamics.
But, more tantalizingly, the filaments may have had the same evolutionary origin as actual feathers. If true, that could mean that the common ancestor of dinosaurs and pterosaurs had feathers of a sort — making the origin of feathers even fuzzier.