"At a foot in length, the amazing tail feathers of Changyuraptor are by far the longest of any feathered dinosaur," said Dr. Luis Chiappe, lead investigator on the study.
The remains of a 125 million year old microraptorine dinosaur were found in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China. This new species, called Changyuraptor yangi, provided new evidence on how large-bodied dinosaurs took to the air.
Changyuraptor has a full set of feathers covering its entire body- including exceptionally long tail feathers and a long bony tail. An international research team responsible for its discovery applied aerodynamic models to test the function of its unique tail shape. Through detailed comparison of its structure and inclusion into a large pool of other dinosaurs, the researchers were able to place Changyuraptor into the evolutionary tree of dinosaurs. Dr. Alan Turner, Assistant Professor of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, is the member of the research team who generated the evolutionary trees.
"Numerous anatomical features and behaviors that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene," says Dr. Turner. "This includes hollow bones, nesting behavior, feathers, and possibly flight. There is a growing diversity of feathered dinosaurs close to the origin of birds that many research groups are looking at to understand how gliding or flight aerodynamics evolved, and whether these traits were inherited by the earliest birds."
These findings present evidence that Changyuraptor belongs within a specific group of four-winged raptorial dinosaurs called the microraptorines. They are considered "four-winged" because the long feathers attached to the legs look like a second set of wings, and these feathers have led some researchers to propose that the four-winged dinosaurs were capable of flying. The research also explains that aerodynamic structures in avian precursors were not limited to very small animals and appear well adapted for larger animals.
"Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight," emphasizes Dr. Chiappe, "but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction."
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