May 02, 2015

Tiny Bat Wing Dinosaur Discovered


A small dinosaur resembling a cross between a bird and a bat was the product of one of nature's early experiments with flight, scientists believe. 
The odd feathered creature discovered in China is thought to have had leathery wings similar to those of bats but never before seen in a dinosaur. 
Named "Yi qi" - Mandarin for "strange wing" - the tiny aviator weighing less than a pound (380 grams) lived during the Jurassic Period 160 million years ago. 
Its feathers were not associated with flight, but Yi qi had a peculiar long rod-like bone extending from each wrist. 
Experts think it probably supported a wing membrane, as seen in bats and gliding flying squirrels. Their theory is supported by the discovery of patches of membranous tissue preserved in the fossil remains. 
Lead researcher Professor Xing Xu, from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, said: "We thought giving this animal a name meaning 'strange wing' was appropriate, because no other bird or dinosaur has a wing of the same kind. 

"We don't know if Yi qi was flapping, or gliding, or both, but it definitely evolved a wing that is unique in the context of the transition from dinosaurs to birds."
The scientists, whose findings are reported in the journal Nature, believe Yi qi was one of nature's early pioneers of flight - an evolutionary experiment that ultimately failed. 

Later some dinosaurs eventually evolved into feathered flying birds, which remain to this day. 

Yi qi belonged to a family of small feathered dinosaurs called scansoriopterygids which were related to the famous primitive bird Archaeopteryx. However there has been no previous evidence that any of them could take to the air. 

Initially the dinosaur appeared to be flightless, despite having rudimentary feathers. Then the scientists recognised the unusual rod-like wrist bones, which in modern animals always have the same function - to support an aerodynamic membrane. 

Co-author Dr Corwin Sullivan, a Canadian palaeontologist based at the IVPP, said: "At first we just didn't know what the rod-like bones were. Then I was digging into the scientific literature on flying and gliding vertebrates for a totally different project, and I came across a paragraph in a textbook that said flying squirrels have a strut of cartilage attached to either the wrist or elbow to help support the flight membrane. I immediately thought, wait a minute - that sounds familiar." 

Yi qi may not have been a champion flyer, the scientists pointed out. Even if it had some ability to flap its wings, rather than glide, it may have been limited to short flights between trees or from raised perches to the ground. 

Professor Zheng Xiaoting, from Linyi University in Shandong Province, China, who took part in the study, said: "Yi qi lived in the Jurassic, so it was a pioneer in the evolution of flight on the line to birds. It reminds us that the early history of flight was full of innovations, not all of which survived." 

Pterosaurs, extinct flying reptiles not related to dinosaurs, also had wing membranes supported by an extended fourth finger on each arm. 

With many thanks to The Telegraph 

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