Close cousin of Velociraptor had feathers; discovered in China

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Palaeontologists working in China have unearthed fossil remains of what is believed to be a close cousin of Velociraptor and from what was found it is evident that the dinosaur had set of bird-like wings with feathers.

The discovery of the feathered dinosaur is the largest ever discovered to have a well-preserved set of bird-like wings. The wing, according to palaeontologists should have been very short compared with other dinosaurs in the same family. Researchers also revealed that the dinosaur dubbed Zhenyuanlong suni, had wings with large features and the structure of the wings would have been complex with branches stemming from a central shaft.

The findings are important as unlike other dinosaurs with feathers, Zhenyuanlong suni possessed complex wings made up of quill pen-like feathers indicating that our understanding of winged dinosaurs may have been limited and that dinosaurs with larger and more complex feathers were more diverse than previously thought.

These are the fossil remains of Zhenyuanlong suni. CREDIT Junchang Lu

These are the fossil remains of Zhenyuanlong suni.
Junchang Lu

Further, previous fossil discoveries had confirmed that some dinosaur species had features, but most of these were covered with simple filaments that looked more like hair than modern bird feathers.

Zhenyuanlong suni is believed to be a member of the family of feathered carnivores that was widespread during the Cretaceous Period, and lived around 125 million years ago.

The near-complete skeleton of the animal – which is remarkably well preserved – was studied by scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences. The fossil reveals dense feathers covered the dinosaur’s wings and tail.

According to researchers, the newly discovered species may have grown to more than five feet in length and it may not have been able to fly despite having bird-like wings – at least not using the same type of powerful muscle-driven flight as modern birds, researchers say.

This is a close-up of Zhenyuanlong suni's feathers. CREDIT Junchang Lu

This is a close-up of Zhenyuanlong suni’s feathers.
Junchang Lu

It is unclear what function the short wings served. The species may have evolved from ancestors that could fly and used its wings solely for display purposes, in a similar way to how peacocks use their colourful tails, researchers say.

Dr Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who co-authored the study, said: “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.”

Professor Junchang Lü, of the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, who led the study, said: “The western part of Liaoning Province in China is one of the most famous places in the world for finding dinosaurs. The first feathered dinosaurs were found here and now our discovery of Zhenyuanlong indicates that there is an even higher diversity of feathered dinosaurs than we thought. It’s amazing that new feathered dinosaurs are still being found.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.