Four-winged dinosaur fossils found

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Four-winged dinosaur fossils found

CNN) -- Scientists in China say they have found fossilized remains of a dinosaur with four feathered wings that it probably used for gliding, a find they say strengthens the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

The dinosaur, of the type known as a Microraptor, was about a yard long and lived about 130 million years ago, said the scientists with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.

It probably "flew" much as a flying squirrel does, gliding short distances from place to place, and was probably not capable of actual flight, they said.

Nothing resembles it
"It's a phenomenal find," Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told The Associated Press. "We don't have anything that resembles this in the whole dinosaur and bird spectrum."

The study's authors say their new finds are further confirmation that birds evolved from dinosaurs, a proposal that gained strength in the past century based on the dozens of anatomical features shared by birds and the type of dinosaurs known as theropods. Microraptors are members of that group.

Six fossilized specimens of the creature were found in the Chaoyang Basin in Liaoning, China, in 2001 and 2002, the scientists said. The leg feathers of the fossils are reportedly arranged in a pattern similar to wing feathers in modern birds.

"I never expected to see fly feathers attached to the feet. This is most unusual," lead researcher Xing Xu told CNN. "Finding flight feathers on a non-bird dinosaur is big news."

Fuel for debate
The fossils are likely to reawaken a debate between two theories of how dinosaurs might have evolved into birds. One theory holds that birds' ancient relatives started flapping their wings to fly while gliding. Another theory maintains that the ancient creatures increased their running speed with their wings, eventually taking off from the ground.

A description of the fossils is published in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

In 1999, Xu was part of a scientific team that announced the discovery of fossils dubbed Archaeoraptor lianingensis, purported to offer evidence that many carnivorous dinosaurs sported feathers.

Additional tests were performed, and within months Xu and others concluded that the remains were actually elaborate fakes, composites of difference specimens.

'Looks like things go together'
For this new species of Microraptor, Xu and colleagues conducted extensive tests to ensure they possessed genuine fossils.

"As far as I'm concerned, these are authentic fossils. They've presented extra information to go over that hurdle," said Richard Prum, a University of Kansas bird evolution expert and author of a companion piece in Nature.

Richard Ketchum, a University of Texas research scientist who helped coordinate the Computerized Tomography (CT) scans that determined Archaeoraptor lianingensis was a fake, liked what he saw in the report about the new dino-bird.

"It's a great specimen. From looking at the photo of the slab and the [CT scan] image, it looks like things go together," he said. "With the other one, you could see that it was fake. Some pieces did not fit together."
By quaneeri: posted on 25-1-2003

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