The combination of features indicates that the primitive pterodactyls evolved relatively quickly, and that certain groups of features changed at the same time.

Traditional evolutionary theory suggests that one feature — a tail for instance — would slowly evolve over time.

“Darwinopterus came as quite a shock to us,” said David Unwin, from the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, which identified the creature, along with researchers from the Geological Institute of Beijing.

“We had always expected a gap-filler with typically intermediate features such as a moderately elongate tail — neither long nor short — but the strange thing about Darwinopterus is that it has a head and neck just like that of advanced pterosaurs, while the rest of the skeleton, including a very long tail, is identical to that of primitive forms,” he said.