Chinese scientist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and Linyi University in Shandong have discovered the fossil of a bird-like dinosaur, no bigger than a pigeon, with featherless, bat-like wings.
The scientists scanned the remains of the 160 million-year-old creature with CT devices and electron microscopy and reconstructed the image of first-known dinosaur species to have membranous wings with thin membranes between the veins.
Dubbed Yi qi (roughly translates to “strange wing”) had a stubby head, an unusually long third finger, threadlike feather, a rod-like bone connected to each wrist (typically found in bats and squirrels), weighed about a pound (380 grams) and is presumed to not have been a very good flyer, mostly moving through the air by combining flapping and gliding, only being able to travel short distances – from tree to tree, or from a tree top to the ground.
Xiaoting Zheng, a co-author of the thesis published in Nature on Monday, explained that “Living in the mid period of Jurassic, the dinosaur Yi qi could be a pioneer in the evolution of flying ability. Yi qi proves that the prehistoric life had various attempts in developing flying ability, many went into the dead ends, though the flying mode of existing birds seems to be the only one survived to date”.
Corwin Sullivan, a Canadian paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, suggested that the animal might not have even been able to flap properly “It’s hard to imagine that it could have flapped very effectively, since the rod-like bone was presumably a fairly unwieldy thing to have attached to the wrist. So our guess would be that Yi qi was gliding or maybe combining gliding with some relatively inefficient flapping”.
The dinosaur has sparked awe among paleontologists with many marveling at the creature’s anatomy.
Xing Xu, one of the study’s authors revealed that the scientist “spent quite some time to identify the body structure of Yi qi, because the specimen is so different. At first we did not have the slightest idea about what was the rod-like bone. […] This is the most unexpected discovery I have ever made, even though I have found a few really bizarre dinosaurs in my career”.
Thomas Holtz Jr., a paleontologist at the University of Maryland who didn’t work on the study, echoes the feeling saying that “it’s been a while since I’ve been really surprised by the anatomy of a dinosaur. But this one did it…. We definitely need more specimens of this thing to figure out what’s going on”.
Xiaoting Zheng and Xing Xu classified Yi qi as a scansoriopterygids, a diminutive, feathered meat-eater “closely related to the most primitive birds such as Archaeopteryx”.
Some paleontologists believe the new found dinosaur lived in trees and used the claws on the tips of their fingers to grip plants as they climbed or moved along branches, with their long tails helping them stay balanced.
It is important to note that a huge part of the dinosaur’s body from below the rib cage is missing, leaving scientists with many unanswered questions. They agree that the animal’s wing structure “looks like it could have been used in flight, borne by an animal that otherwise shows no such tendencies” and yet, based on current evidence “there is no other possible explanation for the function of this structure”
Image Source: sciencenews.org