New species of feathered dinosaur discovered in China
Scientists published today a study of near-complete fossil remains of a winged dinosaur discovered in China. This well-preserved fossil “provides the first glimpse of feather morphologies in a [family of feathered theropod dinosaurs],” they report.
The newly identified species, named Zhenyuanlong suni, features a large body — in fact, the largest ever discovered for a winged dinosaur — reaching to 165 cm (5.4 feet) in length. It has short arms with large and complex wings. The most striking attribute, however, is the well preserved feather morphology and distribution.
The well-preserved fossil allowed the scientists to detect dense feathers that covered wings and tail of Zhenyuanlong. These feathers had complex structures, consisting of fine branches sprouting from central shafts, much like the feathers of modern birds. This is in contrast to many species of dinosaurs which had feathers made of simple filaments like hair, according to the scientists.
“This latest discovery suggests that winged dinosaurs with larger and more complex feathers were more diverse than previously thought,” announces the press release by University of Edinburgh.
Despite its large wings, the researchers say Zhenyuanlong probably could not fly. The wings may have been evolutionary remnants from ancestors that could fly, kept for display purposes, they stipulate.
“The western part of Liaoning Province in China [where Zhenyuanlong was unearthed] is one of the most famous places in the world for finding dinosaurs,” says Junchang Lü, who led the study. “The first feathered dinosaurs were found here and now our discovery of Zhenyuanlong indicates that there is an even higher diversity of feathered dinosaurs than we thought. It’s amazing that new feathered dinosaurs are still being found.”
Thousands of specimens have been discovered over the past two decades in Liaoning Province of northeastern China. These discoveries continue to illustrate and unravel the evolutionary dinosaur-bird transitions.
Zhenyuanlong is a close cousin of Velociraptor, mid-sized carnivorous dinosaurs featured in Jurassic Park films.
“This new dinosaur is one of the closest cousins of Velociraptor, but it looks just like a bird,” says Steve Brusatte, who co-authored the report. “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.”
The study was conducted by scientists from Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and University of Edinburgh. The report is published today in Scientific Reports and is open access (no subscription fee is required).