This is rather exciting news for feathered dinosaur fans (who could probably use a win lately). A new species of feathered dinosaur has been discovered, and it is the largest four-winged flier yet known.
Changyuraptor, Large Species of Flying Dinosaur, Is Discovered (New York Times):
The new species, Changyuraptor, found in northeastern China, was four feet long and weighed about nine pounds — by far the largest of the flying nonavian dinosaurs that lived about 125 million years ago. Typically, the dinosaurs, known as microraptors, weighed about two pounds.
“Nine pounds for an early flier,” said Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and a co-author of a study in the journal Nature Communications about the new find. “That is a pretty sizable beast.”
Despite the animal’s unusual mass, researchers hypothesize that the Changyuraptor was able to fly by leveraging its large, elongated tail feathers, to control pitch and speed while in flight. Did the hind legs aid in propulsion? We don’t know, but researchers have noted that based on the skeletal arrangement, the Changyuraptor should have been able to use them to slow and point the nose up for a safe landing, which would have been important for animals of larger size.
The article is paywalled (a preview is available with access options here), but according to the abstract:
[I]t is the largest theropod with long, pennaceous feathers attached to the lower hind limbs (that is, ‘hindwings’). The lengthy feathered tail of the new fossil provides insight into the flight performance of microraptorines and how they may have maintained aerial competency at larger body sizes.
We demonstrate how the low-aspect-ratio tail of the new fossil would have acted as a pitch control structure reducing descent speed and thus playing a key role in landing.
Gang Han, Luis M. Chiappe, Shu-An Ji, Michael Habib, Alan H. Turner, Anusuya Chinsamy, Xueling Liu & Lizhuo Han. “A new raptorial dinosaur with exceptionally long feathering provides insights into dromaeosaurid flight performance.” Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4382 doi:10.1038/ncomms5382
Though much larger, especially with its pronounced tail, its structure does resemble that of the microraptor in the figure below. The “unexpected discovery” of the specimen “plays a role in the early junction in the evolution of flight,” according to the Washington Post.
- Scientists discover largest four-winged dinosaur to date (USA Today)
- Four-winged flying dinosaur unearthed in China (The Guardian)
- World’s largest four-winged dinosaur discovered — and it has massive feathers (Washington Post)