Changyuraptor, the largest known flying dinosaur to ever live, has been discovered in China. The ancient avian used four wings, adding stability and control to flight, much like modern aircraft.
The flying dinosaur was around four feet long, and paleontologists believe it weighed about nine pounds.
Changyuraptor is believed to have lived around 125 million years ago. The entire body of the animals were covered in feathers, fossils show.
Microraptorines have two true wings, along with a pair of legs, covered in feathers, which acted like the tail stabilizers on aircraft. These animals were related to velociraptors, made famous in Jurassic Park. The newly-discovered species is about 60 percent larger than the largest microraptorine known.
Tail feathers of Changyuraptor were up to 12 inches long, one-quarter of the animal's body length. These oversized feathers may have helped to slow the animal on descent, playing an essential role in landing. They are the longest-known tail feathers of any flying dinosaur.
This new find could suggest that flying dinosaurs took to the air before the evolution of birds.
"Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene. This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behavior, feathers...and possibly flight," Alan Turner of Stony Brook University, said.
The fossil was found in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China, which has become a hotbed of new discoveries for paleontologists. The area is so rich with paleontological finds that farmers in the area are making a majority of the discoveries as they work their land. At the time this dinosaur lived, this area was a peninsula, jutting out into the ocean, and the area was filled with active volcanoes and a wide variety of wildlife.
Anusuya Chinsamy from the University of Capetown South Africa conducted microanalysis of the fossil, showing the animal was a fully-grown adult.
"The new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of more substantial size. Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight, but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction," Luis Chiappe, paleontologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), told the press.
Birds are now believed to be the descendents of dinosaurs, although feathered dinosaurs mainly lived on the ground. The best-known example of an exception to this rule were the pterosaurs. This new find has many features found in both dinosaurs and early birds, such as the Archaeopteryx.
Discovery of Changyuraptor yangi and study of its capability for flight was profiled in the journal Nature Communications.