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Largest-Ever Four-Winged Dinosaur Reveals Secrets Of Dinosaur Flight

July 16, 2014
Image Caption: Life Reconstruction of Changyuraptor yangi, a 125 million-year-old microraptorine dinosaur from China. Credit: S. Abramowicz, Dinosaur Institute, NHM

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Newly-discovered fossils belonging to the largest four-winged dinosaur ever found could help shed new light on how the creatures were able to fly, according to research published online Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

The creature, which has been named Changyuraptor yangi, was discovered in 125-million-year-old sediments in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China, according to Michael Balter of Science. It was approximately 1.2 meters long, had feathers on all four of its limbs, and had a feather-covered tail that took up nearly one-third of its total length.

In their study, the investigators explained that the new fossil possesses the longest-known feathers ever found in a non-avian dinosaur, and is also the largest theropod (a type of bipedal saurischian dinosaurs) to have long, pennaceous feathers attached to its lower hind limbs. Furthermore, the long feathered tail provided the scientists with new insight into the role of the creature’s low-aspect-ratio tail in its aerial performance.

“I’ve worked for over 20 years in China, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” co-author Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told Traci Watson of USA Today. “It was absolutely stunning to see how perfectly preserved these feathers were and how long they were.”

Based on its large, sharp teeth and claws, Chiappe and his colleagues believe that Changyuraptor was carnivorous, and while its exact diet remains unknown, fossils of similar creatures have been discovered with fish and birds in their guts. The new dinosaur is said to be 60 percent larger and three times heavier than the next largest four-winged dinosaur, the Microraptor (which weighed approximately three pounds).

The first part of the dinosaur’s name means “long-feather raptor” while the second part honors a Chinese financial supporter, Watson said. It weighed an estimated three pounds, and currently it is unclear whether or not the creature was able to actually fly under its own power, or if it merely glided. Either way, the study authors said they were astonished to find a creature that could take to the skies at such an early point in history, she added.

According to the researchers, the newly discovered fossils provide evidence that the tail feathers played an important role during flight control, which would have been needed for an airborne creature of this size to land safely. Furthermore, the discovery helps confirm that the concept of flight preceded the development of birds.

“The new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of more substantial size,” Chiappe said in a Natural History Museum statement Tuesday. “Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight, but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction.”

Researchers from the Bohai University Paleontological Center, the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, the University of Southern California’s Health Sciences Campus, the Stony Brook University School of Medicine and the University of Cape Town’s Department of Biological Sciences were also involved in the study.

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Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online



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