The largest "four-winged" dinosaur known has been found, and this predator has the longest feathers yet outside of birds, researchers say. This new finding yields insights on how dinosaurs may have flown, the scientists added.
The 125-million-year-old feathered dinosaur, named Changyuraptor yangi, sported feathers over its body, including its arms and legs, which made it look as if it had two pairs of wings. Its fossil was unearthed in 2012 in Liaoning province in northeastern China, which has been the center of a surge of discoveries of feathered dinosaurs over the last decade.
"The vast majority of feathered dinosaurs in Liaoning are collected by farmers who live there," said study author Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist and director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The newfound dinosaur is a microraptorine, a group of predatory, feathered dinosaurs related to Velociraptor and other well-known raptor dinosaurs. Analysis of the microscopic structure of this fossil's bones reveal it was a fully grown adult — a younger specimen's bones would have signs they were still developing.
"Microraptorines are thought to be very close cousins of birds, sharing a common raptor ancestor," Chiappe told Live Science. "It's not known yet whether a four-wing body is something unique to microraptorines, or something the common ancestor of birds and microraptorines had, that was later lost in the bird lineage." [Image Gallery: Dinosaur Fossils]
The researchers estimate 4-foot-long (1.2 meter) Changyuraptor weighed about 9 lbs. (4 kilograms), making it the largest four-winged dinosaur found yet, and at least 60 percent larger than the largest microraptorine specimen found previously, Chiappe said.
When Changyuraptor was alive, the area in which it lived "was a broad peninsula or wedge into the ocean, with volcanoes," Chiappe said.
- Charles Choi, Live Science
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