Aug 27 2014
Microraptors had been characterized as 2.5 – 3 feet long weighing up to 2.2. pounds, but this one broke the mold. Changyuraptor is four feet long with 30% of its length made up of foot-long feathers at the end of its tail. The animal is “four-winged” because it has long feathers on all four limbs. And it was heavy — probably 9 pounds — which is four to six times heavier than a peregrine falcon, more similar in weight to a male bald eagle.
Changyuraptor’s long tail showed that this non-avian dinosaur had good flight control. If you watch a big (modern) bird coming in for a landing you’ll see it slow its air speed by pushing down its tail and holding its head high. The July report in Nature Communications said this dino could do that too. Unfortunately the feathers on the raptors forewings (arms) were not well preserved, so scientists can’t tell if it could take off from the ground or only glide from trees.
Though he could fly Changyuraptor yangi is non-avian in other respects. He had teeth instead of a beak and bones in his tail. But he was clearly a forerunner to birds. If you ask someone who knows a lot about dinosaurs what he thinks of birds you get a very cool answer.
In a video from the Syndey Morning Herald (click on the illustration to see the video) science columnist Peter Spinks interviews two paleontologists, one in the studio and one on the phone. He asks both of them, “Does this clinch the deal for you that dinosaurs were the precursors of birds?”
Both answer that the deal was clinched for them long ago. And then the second paleontologist, Mikael Siversson, adds, ““Not only are birds descended from dinosaurs, but in fact birds are dinosaurs. They are highly specialized surviving dinosaurs.”
(illustration of Changyuraptor yangi by Stephanie Abramowicz, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)