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Newly discovered 4-winged dinosaur takes study of early flight to new heights

Artist rendition of a previously discovered 4-winged dinosaur known as Microraptor Gui,
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

Scientists from Bohai University, China, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, here in the US are enjoying new “flights of fancy” after digging up a completely intact new species of four-winged raptors (with feathers still preserved on its bones) in the Liaoning Province of China. Dubbed Changyraptor yangi (from the Chinese words “chang yu” translated to mean long feathers), these small cousins of Velociraptors had foot-long tail feathers, measured about 4-feet long and are estimated to have weighed in a 9 lb, making them “larger than modern eagles or albatrosses” according to Alan Turner, an assistant professor of anatomical sciences at Stony Brook University’s medical school on Long Island. Turner is part of a team of scientists at the Museum now trying to determine how this ancient bird navigated the skies some 125 million years ago.

“Although it lacked the ‘finesse’ of modern birds in flight, we believe that c. yangi’s used its long tail to compensate for its size and maintain control while airborne,” added Mike Habib of the University of Southern California, who has been analyzing the aerodynamics of the fully intact fossil, while lead investigator paleontologist Luis Chiappe of Los Angeles’s Natural History Museum theorized that the “hindwings on its legs and low-aspect-ratio of its tail of the new fossil would have acted as a pitch control structure reducing descent speed, which could be critical to a safe landing or precise attack on prey."

However, he admitted that no one knows for sure as yet. In the meantime, the researchers, which also include Anusuya Chinsamy of the University of Cape Town in South Africa to create a simulated version of c. yangi to get a better idea of how it launched itself into the sky and used wind currents to glide above the earth.