Extraordinarily long feathers on a small raptor fossil discovered in China sheds new light into dinosaur flight and the evolution of birds.
Found at the Liaong province in northeastern China by an international team of paleontologists led by Dr. Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the 125-million-year-old fossil named Changyuraptor yangi, displays remarkably preserved feathers all over its body including both arms and legs.
These group of prehistoric animals, other species of which had been seen before, are dubbed “four-winged dinosaurs” because of the long feathers on their hind legs which give them the appearance of an extra set of wings. Looking at these long feathers on all four limbs, paleontologists had deduced that this group of microraptorines possessed the ability of flight.
"Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene," said co-author Dr. Alan Turner of Stony Brook University (New York). "This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behavior, feathers…and possibly flight."
The most conspicuous feature of the Changyuraptor, the so far biggest of the microraptorines with its four-foot-long body weighing nine pounds, is its foot-long tail feathers, unseen in any other flying dinosaur before.
Researchers think these served as brakes to ensure a smooth balanced landing and prevent injury, a problem large sized birds have to cope with.
- 1. “New feathered predatory fossil sheds light on dinosaur flight”, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 15 July 2014