Scientists in China on Wednesday described one of the weirdest flying creatures ever discovered, a pigeon-size dinosaur with wings like a bat that lived not long before the first birds.
The dinosaur, named Yi qi (meaning "strange wing" in Mandarin and pronounced EE-chee), lived about 160 million years during the Jurassic Period, about 10 million years before the earliest-known bird, Archaeopteryx.
It is considered a cousin of birds, but boasted membranous wings made of skin like those of the extinct flying reptiles known as pterosaurs, which lived at the same time, and bats, which appeared more than 100 million years later, instead of the stiff, plume-like feathers of birds.
Each wing was supported by a clawed, three-fingered hand and a rod-like bone extending from the wrist. One of the fingers was much longer than the others. Feathers preserved around its head, neck and limbs are more similar to hairs or bristles than to bird flight feathers.
"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," said paleontologist Corwin Sullivan of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing. "So our guess would be that Yi qi was gliding or maybe combining gliding with some relatively inefficient flapping."