A new dinosaur fossil with extremely long feathers boosts a theory that flight was common among the types of dinosaurs that later evolved into birds, scientists say.
The flying predator, or raptor, had a long, feathered tail that biologists think was crucial for lowering descent speed and assuring safe landings. A paper published in the journal Nature Communications July 15 describes the fossil, found by a team led by Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County paleontologist Luis Chiappe.
“The new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of more substantial size,” he said, although “far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight.”
The 125-million-year-old dinosaur, named Changyuraptor yangi, was found in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province, which has seen a surge of discoveries in feathered dinosaurs over the last decade. The newly discovered, remarkably preserved dinosaur sports a full set of feathers over its whole body.
“At a foot in length, the amazing tail feathers of Changyuraptor are by far the longest of any feathered dinosaur,” said Chiappe. Analyses of the microscopic bone structure by University of Cape Town (South Africa) scientist Anusuya Chinsamy indicated that the raptor was a fully grown adult, at four feet in length (120 cm), the biggest of all “four-winged” dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs such as Changyuraptor are part of a lineage known as microraptors, and called “four-winged” because their long leg feathers look like a second set of wings. Researchers believe they probably could fly. “Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived,” said co-author Alan Turner of Stony Brook University in New York. “This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behavior, feathers… and possibly flight.”
How well these creatures used the sky as a thoroughfare has remained controversial. The new discovery explains the role that the tail feathers played during flight control. For larger flyers, safe landings are of particular importance. “It makes sense that the largest microraptorines had especially large tail feathers—they would have needed the additional control,” said Michael Habib, a researcher at the University of Southern California and a co-author of the paper.
Source : world-science.net