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Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Bizarre Dinosaur Had 4 'Wings,' Long Tail Feathers
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
Had 4 'Wings,' Long Tail Feathers
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.
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.
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."
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
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,"
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.