Scientists have uncovered the largest known winged dinosaur, which was found in China. At just two metres long, it is much smaller than the large dinosaurs we are familiar with but it is a dinosaur nonetheless. What is really interesting is that this winged dinosaur is actually a very close cousin to the velociraptor raptor. This is another reminder that the Jurassic Park franchise got these dinosaurs all wrong. They were in fact not only much smaller in real life than portrayed but also covered in feathers.
Scientists have named this dinosaur Zhenyuanlong suni. The fossil is about 125 million years old and was found in ancient lakebeds in China’s Liaoning Province.
The fossil is extremely well preserved. So well that scientists have been able to reconstruct its plumage and have found that is was almost entirely covered in feathers. Upon closer inspection of the fossil, traces of feathers can be seen which are especially visible on its arms, or perhaps a better term would be wings.
“It’s the biggest dinosaur that has ever been found with wings. In general it is very bird-like, but it’s big, and has these very short arms with full-blown wings.” said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at Edinburgh University.
Scientists think Zhenyuanlong lived in dense forest and scavenged for food or ate small prey. It is believed that despite the presence of wings, this raptor was flightless.
This finding has re-opened up the debate about the origin of wings. While most scientists agree that the first feathers didn’t allow dinosaurs to fly, there are several hypotheses for what function they originally served. After-all they must have had some purpose or we wouldn’t see birds today.
Some of these include as a display to attract females, as a warming mechanism or for protection or scaring away predators. Some even think they could have allowed creatures to glide short distances giving them an advantage over their non-winged counterparts. Early birds probably gained the ability to fly when changes in bone structure allowed them to but there is evidence this occurred long after the dinosaurs.
For now the function of the wings on Zhenyuanlong remains a mystery but scientists hope they have answer this question soon.
This discovery also sheds more light on the fact that birds have evolved from dinosaurs and that all modern birds share a common ancestor with Zhenyuanlong. These fossils are very fascinating because it is clear proof that birds are evolved from reptiles.