Fossil of New Feathered Dinosaur Species Unearthed in China

Posted on July 16, 2015

Artist's interpretation of Zhenyuanlong suni

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences have unearthed the fossil of a previously unknown species of feathered dinosaur in China. The winged dinosaur is the largest dinosaur discovered to date to have a well-preserved set of wings. It has been named Zhenyuanlong suni.

The winged dinosaur is a close cousin of Velociraptor. The wings on the newly discovered dinosaur consist of multiple layers of large feathers. The feathers are described as complex structures of fine branches that stem from a central shaft.

The newly discovered species belonged to a family of feathered carnivores that lived about 125 million years ago during the Cretaceous. It reached over five feet in length. Scientists do not think the large feathered dinosaur could fly. The scientists say in a release, "Despite having bird-like wings, it probably could not fly, at least not using the same type of powerful muscle-driven flight as modern birds, researchers say." In their research paper the scientists note that biomechanical modeling will be needed to properly test their non-flight hypothesis for these creatures.

The researchers are not sure what purpose the short wings served. The feathers could have been for display purposes in a similar way modern peacocks use their colorful tails.

Dr. Steve Brusatte, the co-author of the study from the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, says the finding suggests the unfeathered look of Velociraptor in the Jurassic Park films is incorrect. He says, "This new dinosaur is one of the closest cousins of Velociraptor, but it looks just like a bird. 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."

Fossil of Zhenyuanlong suni

A research paper on the new species was published here in the journal, Scientific Reports.

Image: Chuang Zhao/Junchang Lu

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