New batlike dinosaur was early experiment in flight

first_img Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) A number of tiny, bat-winged dinosaurs flew the Jurassic skies, according to the strongest evidence yet for such creatures—a well-preserved fossil of a starling-size fluffball that may have looked a little like a flying squirrel. The find, recovered near a farming village in northeastern China, suggests dinosaurs were experimenting with several methods of flight during this period, but many were an evolutionary dead end.“This fossil seals the deal—there really were bat-winged dinosaurs,” says Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved with the study.Scientists were already confident that a number of dinosaurs could fly. There are birds, of course, which are technically dinosaurs and appeared during the Jurassic period, at least 150 million years ago. Other dinosaurs sported feathers on their hind- and forelimbs, effectively giving them four birdlike wings. Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Email Min Wang/Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology/Chinese Academy of Sciences Even Ambopteryx’s stomach contents were preserved. Researchers recovered pieces of bone and small rocks called gastroliths, which modern birds use to grind plant material, indicating the species may have been omnivorous. Though the creature was replete with feathers, these were a downy fuzz and not used for flight. O’Connor also speculates that males of the species may have sported long ornamental tail feathers, possibly to woo females, as can be seen in other scansoriopterygid fossils.The complete skeleton has allowed scientists to make the first detailed analysis of differences in wing design and mode of flight between these dinosaurs and birds. Researchers measured the bones of the arms and fingers in each type of wing and compared them using statistical methods.Ambopteryx’s wings were formed by elongating the humerus and ulna, the bones of the upper and lower arm in humans, the team reports today in Nature. Birds instead achieved flight by elongating their metacarpals, analogous to our fingers. “The main lift-generating surface of birds’ wings is formed by feathers,” O’Connor explains. “In bats, pterosaurs [dinosaur-era reptiles that flew similar to bats], and now scansoriopterygids—you instead have flaps of skin that are stretched out in between skeletal elements.”“This new discovery shows Yi qi was not an aberrant species, but that there was an entire group of bat dinosaurs taking to the skies in the [Jurassic],” says Darla Zelenitsky, a paleontologist at the University of Calgary in Canada who has studied feathered dinosaurs.However, although nearly 10,000 species of birds live today, no scansoriopterygids survived past the end of the Jurassic. That suggests their early experiment in flight was far less successful, O’Connor says. Still, she says, their existence is remarkable, given that flight has only evolved in a handful of groups of animals across the entire history of life. “The idea that flight evolved more than once in dinosaurs is incredibly exciting and hasn’t quite sunk into the scientific community yet.”“The evolution of flight wasn’t a gradual march from dinosaur to bird,” Brusatte adds. “It involved lots of experimentation and tinkering.” An artist’s illustration of Ambopteryx By John PickrellMay. 8, 2019 , 1:00 PM Then, in 2015, researchers discovered a dinosaur that may have flown more like a bat. Named Yi qi (Mandarin for “strange wing”) and discovered in northwestern China, the crow-size creature appeared to have a flap of skin stretched between its body and arm bones that was supported by a rod of cartilage. But the fossil, which belongs to an enigmatic group of dinosaurs called the scansoriopterygids, was partial and poorly preserved, so scientists couldn’t be sure it actually flew like a bat. “There’s been debate about whether the skin flap was really an airfoil or used for another purpose,” Brusatte says.The new fossil, named Ambopteryx longibrachium (meaning “both-wing” and “long arm,” referring to this second method of dinosaur flight) and dated to about 163 million years ago during the Jurassic period, doesn’t have that problem. Nearly every part of the little dino—which was uncovered by a farmer who provides the fossils he finds to the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing—is well-preserved, including membranous batlike wings similar to those of Yi qi. “You could have fit it in your hand,” says IVPP paleontologist and study author Jingmai O’Connor. “It would have been this tiny, bizarre-looking, buck-toothed thing like nothing alive today.” Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe New batlike dinosaur was early experiment in flight Min Wang/Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology/Chinese Academy of Sciences The new Ambopteryx fossil, with two folded wings in the center and the remains of fuzzy feathers along the necklast_img