WASHINGTON (AP) — As pterodactyls go, it was small, toothless and had unexpectedly curved toes — yet scientists are welcoming their new find as another piece in the puzzle of ancient life.

"We have this really amazing creature, sparrow sized, which lived essentially in the trees, showing us a very new, very interesting side of the evolutionary history of those animals," said Alexander W. A. Kellner of the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"We would never have thought of it," Kellner said in a telephone interview.

The find, by researchers led by Xiaolin Wang of the Chinese Academy of Science, is reported in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pterodactyls are best known from giant examples of the ancient flying reptiles.

Dubbed Nemicolopterus crypticus — hidden flying forest dweller — the new fossil was uncovered in the western part of China's Liaoning province, a region that was forested when it lived there about 120 million years ago.