The wukongopterids are a newly discovered group of pterosaurs known exclusively from rocks laid down during the Middle Jurassic. They are known from several genera including the namesake Wukongopterus, as well as the famous Darwinopterus. Wukongopterids occupy a critical place in the pterosaur family tree. They link the early, long-tailed short-headed pterosaurs like Rhamphorhynchus and Dimorphodon, and the later short-tailed, long-headed pterosaurs like Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus. Wukongopterids retain long tails but have much longer heads that other long tailed pterosaurs. They also show a merger of the nostril and a large facial sinus, a condition seen in the short-tailed pterosaurs.
A newly discovered wukongopterid specimen from the Upper Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation of China was described by Xin Cheng and colleagues in the journal PeerJ. This new specimen, IVPP V 17959, was not assigned to any existing species, and we here at Pteros have lovingly given it the nickname Ian. Ian is three-dimensionally preserved, but incomplete, comprising a nearly complete skull, portions of both wings, a partial leg, and associated vertebrae.
Like all wukongopterids, Ian retained a long tail but had a relatively long skull. Ian's skull was approximately 14.5 cm in length and had a bony ridge or crest on the end of its snout. Ian's crest is unique among known wukongopterids; other species had crests of different shapes, sizes, and locations on the skull, but none that match the shape of Ian's. The crest shape also helps support the idea that wukongopterid crests can help identify and differentiate species, rather than an alternate hypothesis of sexual dimorphism.