A new non-avian dinosaur not only looked like a jet but also was an expert flier.
The 125-million-year-old dinosaur, Changyuraptor yangi, strengthens the evidence that flight preceded the origin of birds. The dino, named after researcher Yang Yandong and the Chinese words for “long-feathered raptor,” is described in a study published in the latest issue of Nature Communications.
It's clear that this dinosaur, which sported big wings and a streamlined, aerodynamic body, could fly. The question remains: How did the 4-foot-long animal get off the ground?
“It is difficult to say, and controversial, whether an animal like Changyuraptor was able to take off from the ground or launch from a perch,” project leader Luis Chiappe told Discovery News. “We do know that they were very maneuverable animals and our study shows that they used their tail to slow down while they landed.”
“At a foot in length, the amazing tail feathers of Changyuraptor are by far the longest of any feathered dinosaur,” added Chiappe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Chiappe and an international team found the dinosaur in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China. Based on multiple recent discoveries there, this site was a hotbed of dino activity back in the Cretaceous, and many of the dinosaurs had feathers.
Changyuraptor looks as if it had four wings instead of the usual two, due to long feathers that jutted out from its legs. Such “four-winged” dinosaurs belonged to a group known as “microraptorine,” or tiny raptors.
Before non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, some of them hunted birds. They also likely ate fish, swooping over bodies of water to catch their dinner. Such moves would have been all the more impressive considering that Changyuraptor weighed 9 pounds. (By comparison, seagulls typically weigh only about 1.5 pounds.)