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Dinosaur find sheds light on evolution of birds

Updated July 16, 2014
LOS ANGELES: The Dinosaur Institute of Natural History Museum shows a newly discovered feathered dinosaur, the Changyuraptor Yangi. — AFP
LOS ANGELES: The Dinosaur Institute of Natural History Museum shows a newly discovered feathered dinosaur, the Changyuraptor Yangi. — AFP

PARIS: The fossil of a strange dinosaur with four feathery wing-like appendages, unearthed in China, could provide clues to the origins of birds, scientists said on Tuesday.

Unearthed at a dinos’ graveyard in the northeastern province of Liaoning, the astonishingly-preserved fossil is that of a 125-million-year-old predator the size of a small but slim turkey.

Dubbed Changyuraptor yangi, the creature sports a full set of feathers over its entire body, which measured 1.3 metres from its beak to the tip of its super-long tail.

“At a foot (30 centimetres) in length, the amazing tail feathers of Changyuraptor are by far the longest of any feathered dinosaur,” said Luis Chiappe at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

The raptor, believed to be an adult that probably tipped the scale at around 4.5 kilos, is the biggest so-called “four-winged” dinosaur ever found.

These dinos, known as microraptorines, had long feathers attached to all their legs and arms, although how well they used the skies is a matter of big debate.

The new discovery suggests that in the case of Changyuraptor a form of flight or gliding was quite possible. The super-long tail feather may have existed to give aerodynamic control, ensuring that the critter made a safe landing.

If so, that calls for a rethink of the theory that birds evolved just from small, feathery theropods, or two-footed dinosaurs.

“The new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of more substantial size,” said Chiappe in a press release.

“Clearly, far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight, but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction. “Dating the origin of birds has been a source of wrangling among palaeontologists.

For decades, the title of “first bird” went to the 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx, 11 specimens of which have been found in German limestone quarries.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2014