Winged changyuraptor adds feather to SA scientist’s cap

It must be one of the strangest creatures the world has ever seen, and, considering the existence of the woolly mammoth and the platypus, that’s saying something.

An international team of experts, including Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan from the University of Cape Town, has discovered a small, feathered dinosaur with four wings and a long tail. Discovered in the Liaoning province in China, the 125-million-year-old microraptor sheds light on how dinosaurs flew, long before birds as we know them existed.

Enter the changyuraptor which, at 4kg, is the largest of all known four-winged dinosaurs. It also had a full set of feathers covering its body, and long tail feathers. The team, led by Dr Luis Chiappe from the Natural History Museum Los Angeles in the United States, had its findings published on Tuesday in scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of more substantial size,” Chiappe said. “Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight.”

Dr Alan Turner, from Stony Brook University in New York, said: “Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene. This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behaviour, feathers and possibly flight.” But the question of how dinosaurs would have flown remains unanswered.


“As we know, birds have wings on their forelimbs. However, about 10 years ago predatory dinosaurs were discovered with wings on both their forelimbs, and hindlimbs,” said Chinsamy-Turan.

Tail feathers
Scientists do not know how these creatures could fly with four wings.

But these researchers believe that their latest find shows that tail feathers played an important role in flight.

“Our new microraptor, changyuraptor, is quite large, and we propose that its unusually long tail [30cm in length] helped to keep it airborne and could have assisted with landing.”

The bigger the creature, the more important a safe landing becomes, and “it makes sense that the largest microraptorines had especially large tail feathers – they would have needed additional control”, said Dr Michael Habib from the University of Southern California.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Easter eggs from the most South African dinosaur

After years of data processing at the Wits laboratory, one evolutionary scientist has constructed a 3D model of a baby Massospondylus

Jurassic parkour in SA lava fields

After stumbling on mention of tracks in a dissertation from the 1960s, scientists are shedding new light on the dinosaurs that hotfooted it through SA’s prehistoric past

NLC funds breathe life into the West Coast Fossil Park

Funds from the NLC contributed towards the design and construction of of museum and visitors centre and the creation of many visitor experiences

Tyrannosaurus rex, a sexy softie

You’d be forgiven for thinking that T rex was all bad. And Hollywood doesn’t help their image.

Climate shift killed off dinosaurs

Volcanos and an asteroid released sulphates and carbon, which caused temperature change.

Global freeze helped kill off dinosaurs

While warm-blooded animals could adapt to changing temperatures because they regulate their own temperature, cold-blooded dinosaurs could not.
Advertising

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday