New Chinese flying dinosaur discovery


A new flying dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago has been dug up in China, which scientists say throws new light on the evolution of birds. The Aurornis xui was about the same size as a chicken, had tiny triangular teeth and was covered almost head-to-toe in primitive feathers

From the Daily Mail in England:

Flying dinosaur which had triangular teeth and resembled a CHICKEN discovered in Chinese quarry

The chicken-sized Aurornis xui lived 150 million years ago, had tiny triangular teeth and was covered in primitive feathers
Belgian scientists claim the fossilised skeleton throws new light on how birds evolved from land dinosaurs

By Victoria Woollaston

PUBLISHED: 18:02 GMT, 29 May 2013 | UPDATED: 21:18 GMT, 29 May 2013

A flying dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago has been dug up in China.

The Aurornis xui was roughly the same size as a chicken, was 20 inches in length and had tiny, triangular teeth. It was also covered almost head-to-toe in primitive feathers.

Scientists from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels say the complete fossilised skeleton throws new light on the evolution of birds.

Unearthed in at a quarry in Liaoning Province, near the North Korean border, it was closely related to the earliest known flying bird Archaeopteryx.

Both were avialans – dinosaur-birds that diverged millions of years ago from the theropods that included Tyrannosaurus rex and the velicoraptor of Jurassic Park fame.

Discoveries of feathered theropods over the past 20 years have questioned whether Archaeopteryx was the archetypical bird-like dinosaur.

Now the analysis into Aurornis, carried out by Dr Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels and his colleagues, puts Archaeopteryx back at the head of the tree of when dinosaurs turned into birds.

Dr Godefroit said the results support a ‘single origin of powered flight’.

This means that all the dinosaurs which eventually became birds decided at a very similar time to take to the sky, while keeping some of their defensive and hunting features such as tiny teeth.

These features were later lost as the birds developed further and no longer needed them while in the air.

He added traces of soft feathers comprising a bundle of filaments joined together are preserved along a third of the tail, above the neck and around the chest.

The chicken-sized bird would also have had longer feathers designed for flight rather than show – and help it catch prey or escape predators – but these have not been preserved.

Liaoning has proven a rich source of ‘dino-birds’ over the years with the discovery and naming of dozens of types of species.

As with many important fossil sites around the world, this region of northeastern China is believed to have been covered by a lake at the time and supported a complex ecosystem of dinosaurs, birds, fish and mammals.

When some of these creatures died they floated to the lake’s bottom where they were preserved by the silt or buried by sudden, deadly rains of volcanic ash.

Chicken

Dr Goedfroit continued: ‘This new comprehensive phylogeny, or evolutionary development, shows that point of origin avialans were already diversified in northern China during the Middle-Late Jurassic.’

The study, published in the journal Nature, also places another family of small, upright, bi-pedal theropods called Troodontidae as a sister group to the avialans.

Magpie-sized Archaeopteryx developed flying abilities that may have evolved from gliding out of trees or simply running along the ground.

The first complete skeleton was discovered in Jurassic limestone in Germany in 1861 and is a very important fossil, almost certainly representing the transition between reptiles and birds.

This ‘missing link’ shared sharp teeth and a long bony tail with small theropod dinosaurs and a wishbone and feathers with birds – making them the living descendants of Tyrannosaurus rex.

WHAT WAS THE ARCHAEOPTERYX?

Archaeopteryx are the earliest known flying birds, thought to have been about the size of a modern-day magpie.

They lived around 150 million years ago and developed flying abilities that are believed to have evolved from gliding out of trees.

The first complete skeleton of an Archaeopteryx was discovered in Jurassic limestone in Germany in 1861.

Scientists said the fossils represented the transition between reptiles and birds.

The Archaeopteryx forms the missing link, sharing sharp teeth and a long bony tail with small theropod dinosaurs, and a wishbone and feathers with the birds.

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