Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bizarre Dinosaur Had 4 'Wings,' Long Tail Feathers

An artist's rendering shows the newly discovered feathered dinosaur, Changyuraptor yangi, in this image released on July 15, 2014, courtesy of the Natural History Museum (NHM)'s Dinosaur Institute. Scientists on Tuesday described fossils of the strange dinosaur that lived in China 125 million years ago, which was covered in feathers, looked like it had two sets of wings and may have been able to glide. REUTERS/S. Abramowicz/Dinosaur Institute/NHM/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ANIMALS) ATTENTION EDITORS � THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

We are certainly learning more about our earliest flight adaptation by reptiles. I would like to see a work up on the flying characteristics of a four winged dragon. It may even have been around a lot longer than we imagine is choice refugia.

Certainly the mythological artwork seems to nail it and one really wonders. Far too many extinct creatures occupied a narrow niche that makes them invisible. Others are visible because of that niche.

I would like to see much more effort put out to properly model a lot of our fossil record. We need gto be aggressive and particualarly with those feathers. We hnave ample examples of plumage going exotic.

Bizarre Dinosaur Had 4 'Wings,' Long Tail Feathers

By By Charles Choi,
Tue, 15 Jul, 2014

The 125-million-year-old feathered dinosaur, namedChangyuraptor yangi, sported feathers over its body, including its arms and legs, which made it look as if it had two pairs of wings. Its fossil was unearthed in 2012 in Liaoning province in northeastern China, which has been the center of a surge of discoveries of feathered dinosaurs over the last decade.

"The vast majority of feathered dinosaurs in Liaoning are collected by farmers who live there," said study author Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist and director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The newfound dinosaur is a microraptorine, a group of predatory, feathered dinosaurs related to Velociraptor and other well-knownraptor dinosaurs. Analysis of the microscopic structure of this fossil's bones reveal it was a fully grown adult — a younger specimen's bones would have signs they were still developing.

"Microraptorines are thought to be very close cousins of birds, sharing a common raptor ancestor," Chiappe told Live Science. "It's not known yet whether a four-wing body is something unique to microraptorines, or something the common ancestor of birds and microraptorines had, that was later lost in the bird lineage."

The researchers estimate 4-foot-long (1.2 meter) Changyuraptor weighed about 9 lbs. (4 kilograms), making it the largest four-winged dinosaur found yet, and at least 60 percent larger than the largest microraptorine specimen found previously, Chiappe said.

When Changyuraptor was alive, the area in which it lived "was a broad peninsula or wedge into the ocean, with volcanoes," Chiappe said. "It was a moist temperate forest, mostly of conifer trees and gingkos, with dry hot summers and pretty cold winters. There were a variety of meat-eating and plant-eating dinosaurs in the area, including Yutyrannus, a feathered relative of Tyrannosaurus maybe 27 to 30 feet (8.2 to 9.1 m) long."

The area was also home to a great diversity of birds and insects, along with some very primitive mammals, and some of the earliest flowering plants, he said. Lakes in the region held fish, frogs and salamanders.

It was uncertain what Changyuraptor ate, but other microraptorine fossils have been found with the bones of fish and birds in what used to be their guts. "We think Changyuraptor may have gone after small prey like birds, lizards, salamanders, fish and mammals," Chiappe said.

The fossil revealed Changyuraptor had extraordinarily long tail feathers. "The tail is really the crown jewel of the specimen," Chiappe said. "At about 12 inches (0.3 m) long, Changyuraptor had the longest feathers seen outside of birds." Until now, the longest known microraptorine tail feathers were only about 7 inches (0.18 m) long, Chiappe said.

The long feathers seen on both the arms and legs of four-winged dinosaurs suggest they were capable of flying. "It's surprising to think of Changyuraptor flying because it's so large, maybe the size of a peacock," Chiappe said.

But the scientists' aerodynamic calculations suggest Changyuraptor's long tail feathers helped slow its fall, assuring safe landings. "The tail tells us Changyuraptor could have generated a fair amount of lift to slow its flying or gliding speed," Chiappe said. "That's certainly an advantage givenChangyuraptor's size — being fairly large, it could easily injure itself during landing."

If more specimens are found in the future, they may add to researchers understanding of the animal's flying capabilities, Chiappe said. "And who knows, maybe its forelimbs had even longer feathers than its hindlimbs."

Chiappe and his colleagues detailed their findings online today (July 15) in the journal Nature Communications.

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