Feathered Dinosaurs in the News

Reading through recent science news yesterday and today, I came upon several articles about new feathered dinosaurs recently discovered in the Liaoning Province of north-east China. Called Changyuraptor yangi, the specimen found suggests  a species of feathered dinosaurs bigger than any previously discovered existed 125 million years ago in the early Cretaceous period of Earth’s history.  The find is providing insights into the possibility of flight in larger dinosaurs and into the evolution of birds.

Changyuraptor yangi were relatively large for a raptor thought to have flight capability.

  • They were about 4 feet in length and about 9 pounds – about the size of a turkey.
  • It is thought they were carnivores that swooped down on early birds, mammals or fish.
  • They had extremely long tail feathers which were 30 inches long comprising 30% of their body length.
  • The largest microraptorine (four-winged) discovered so far, they were completely covered with feathers, including their legs making them appear to have four wings.
  • They are not considered birds but were a bird-like dinosaur.
"Tetrapteryx" by William Beebe - http://penguinology.blogspot.com/2010/02/bird-from-dinosaur-or-was-it-other-way.html. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tetrapteryx.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Tetrapteryx.jpg.

Artist rendition of a microraptorine. Changyuraptor yangi has similar features. – by William Beebe @ WikiCommons

Some scientists believe that these feathered dinosaurs were primarily gliders not a flyers.  Considering this dinosaur had elaborate leg “wings”,  it is hard to imagine the bird climbing trees to obtain the height necessary to be able to glide.  Many scientists believe this raptor could engage in some kind of flying.  The fact that these microraptorines have wings on their arms and legs is a strong reason for scientists to make this speculation.  Although they were probably not powerful flyers, it is believed they could flap their wings and maintain some sort of flight.  The exceptionally long tail feathers of these microraptorines would have provided stability and speed control during flight. The tail would have acted as a pitch control structure, slowing the creature down and preventing a crash-landing.

As new dinosaur finds are discovered, the evolutionary links between organisms become refined and in some cases rewritten.  Most paleontologists now believe that birds are descended from or are indeed modern-day dinosaurs.  DNA insights may eventually be able to refine the links between them.  For now, these fossil finds provide fodder for research and speculation as to the origins of flight and may eventually confirm that dinosaurs are indeed still among us.

Find more information regarding the evolution of birds from dinosaurs in my HubPages article.  What do you think?  Were some dinosaurs able to fly?  Do dinosaurs still live among us — as birds?

Introduce dinosaurs in the classroom with these fun activities and experiments.


 

Sources

Molloy, Antonia.  July 16, 2014.  edx.  “Four-winged’ dinosaur discovery suggests prehistoric beasts could fly before birds“.  July 18, 2014.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. July 15 2014.  ScienceDaily.  “New feathered predatory fossil sheds light on dinosaur flight.”  July 18, 2014.

Phys.Org.  July 15, 2014.  “New feathered predatory fossil sheds light on dinosaur flight”. July 18, 2014

Vergano, Dan.  July 15, 2014.  National Geographic Daily News.  “Long Tail Feathers Adorned Four-Winged Dinosaur“.  July 18, 2014.

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