Discovered four-winged dinosaur was largest flier of its type at more than quadruple usual weight

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.

See also:


Microraptor from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

  3 comments for “Discovered four-winged dinosaur was largest flier of its type at more than quadruple usual weight

  1. busterggi
    July 17, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    Bad news for lovers of drumsticks.

  2. K Friesen
    July 17, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    Have these scientists never seen “Game of Thrones”. Clearly, much, much larger, fire breathing dragons still exist – they are clearly captured in high definition video – those are not imaginary nor are they paper mache models. I am disappointed by dragon denialists on a regular basis.

  3. Bill T.
    July 17, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    The species is yangi, genus Changyuraptor, why is it so difficult for scince reporters for these outlets to get the details correct?

    Here’s a link to (as a layman) what appears to me to be a decent write-up with a nice graphic of an artists’s impression of the critter:

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