A fluffy feathered poodle from hell: The Jurassic World raptors have got nothing on this dinosaur

July 17, 2015 10:36 am

 An artist’s impression of Zhenyuanlong suni. Photo / Supplied

Paleontologists working in China have found a new dinosaur with one
of the most complex, well-preserved set of wings ever seen on a specimen
of its size.
In a study published in the journal Scientific
Reports, the researchers describe Zhenyuanlong suni, a cousin of the
famed Velociraptor that lived around 125 million years ago.
The
new species is part of the group – known informally as raptors – that
would precede birds, the only dinosaurs remaining on Earth today.

The raptors in Jurassic World are how most people think of the dinosaurs. Photo / Universal
The raptors in Jurassic World are how most people think of the dinosaurs. Photo / Universal
Many smaller species in the group have been found with long
forelimbs and feathered wings, indicating that they might have flown.
But
bigger species in the group tend to have shorter forelimbs not
well-suited for flight, and paleontologists had never found feathers on
one of those big-boned raptors – until now.

Zhenyuanlong suni probably didn’t fly, according to researchers’ analysis of its fossilized remains.
Its
arm structure couldn’t have supported its five-foot-long body with the
kind of muscle-powered flight that birds use today. But that doesn’t
make the fossilized remnants of intricate feathers less exciting: It
indicates that other members of the raptor family could have had
feathers, too – even the ones not suited for flight.
“This new
dinosaur is one of the closest cousins of Velociraptor, but it looks
just like a bird,” study co-author Steve Brusatte of the University of
Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences said in a statement.
“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.”
He dubbed it a “fluffy feathered poodle from hell”.
The
debate over how many dinosaurs were feathered is still ongoing. We know
that birds must have had a common dinosaur ancestor with feathers, and
scientists have found some fossils that take us pretty close to where
feathers might have first evolved – but they still aren’t sure exactly
when feathers first emerged in dinosaurs, or for what purpose.

The fossil remains of Zhenyuanlong suni. Photo / Supplied
The fossil remains of Zhenyuanlong suni. Photo / Supplied
If they first evolved for warmth or decoration and later
were adapted to allow bird ancestors to fly, it’s possible that most
dinosaurs had feathers, albeit simple, quill-like ones.
Zhenyuanlong
suni didn’t have wings well suited for flight – but it did have the
feathers one would need to get off the ground. Because of this, they
suspect that suni came after a flying ancestor, losing the capability
for muscle-powered flight but retaining the related plumage, perhaps to
use its wings for mating displays.

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