Paleontologists working in China unearthed the fossil remains of one of the closest cousins of Velociraptor, but it looks just like a bird. This newly identified species of dinosaur (Zhenyuanlong suni) is the largest ever discovered to have a well-preserved set of bird-like wings.
Researchers say its wings – which are very short compared with other dinosaurs in the same family – consisted of multiple layers of large feathers.
Although larger feathered dinosaurs have been identified before, none have possessed such complex wings made up of quill pen-like feathers, the team says.
Scientists have known for some time that many species of dinosaur had feathers, but most of these were covered with simple filaments that looked more like hair than modern bird feathers.
The discovery suggests winged dinosaurs with larger and more complex feathers were more diverse than previously thought.
The species belonged to a family of feathered carnivores that was widespread during the Cretaceous Period, and lived around 125 million years ago, the team says.
The near-complete skeleton of the animal was studied by scientists from the University and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.
The newly discovered species – named Zhenyuanlong suni – grew to more than five feet in length, and dense feathers covered the dinosaur’s wings and tail.
“This new dinosaur is one of the closest cousins of Velociraptor, but it looks just like a bird. It’s a dinosaur with huge wings made up of quill pen feathers, just like an eagle or a vulture. The movies have it wrong—this is what Velociraptor would have looked like too.” Dr. Steve Brusatte – School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh
Despite having bird-like wings, it probably could not fly, at least not using the same type of powerful muscle-driven flight as modern birds, researchers say.
The species may have evolved from ancestors that could fly and used their wings solely for display purposes, in a similar way to how peacocks use their colorful tails, researchers say.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research was supported by Natural Science Foundation of China, the European Commission, and the US National Science Foundation.
Reference: “A large, short-armed, winged dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Cretaceous of China and its implications for feather evolution” by Junchang Lu and Stephen L. Brusatte, 16 July 2015, Scientific Reports.