A strange new dinosaur (Dinobat) with bat-like wings has been discovered by a farmer in China. It is now helping to shed new light on the evolution of flight. Paleontologists in China say the impeccably preserved fossil belongs to a small dinosaur thought to have lived 160 million years ago. The bizarre-looking Dinobat had slight stiff feathers on its body and long finger-like bones extending from each wrist that were covered in a membrane like a bat’s wing.
Further, Dinobat with wings like a BAT may reveal clues about the origin of flight, it’s named Yi qi and is thought to have lived 160 million years ago during the Late Jurassic. The dinosaur has an unusual bone sticking out of its wrist and had a membrane that covered it to form a wing much like that of a modern bat. Researchers say Dinobat is unlike any other dinosaur, which evolved into birds and may have glided or even been able to fly by flapping over short distances.
Therefore, the fossil was discovered by a local farmer in Qinglong County in north China. Researchers say the dinosaur, which would have weighed just 13 ounces and was 33cm long with wings that spanned 60cm, may have been early evolutionary research with flight. Yi qi belongs to the group of carnivorous dinosaurs recognized as the therapods which include Tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptor.
Therefore, these dinosaurs are thought to have been the ancestors of modern birds. But unlike modern birds, Yi qi was found to have a strange extra bone extending backward from its wrist, rather like an entirely separate group of animals that learned to fly the bats. Professor Xing Xu, one of the world’s foremost prolific paleontologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and who led this work, said: This is actually something for me and it is the most unexpected discovery I ever made.
Moreover, birds are descended from dinosaurs, but how accurately the transition occurred is not really clear. This fresh discovery is a new species of these birds like dinosaurs. This Dinobat is completely different, and it has completely different wings from all other birds and their close relatives. Furthermore, close to the origin of birds, there are numerous lineages trying to get into the air but there was only one group that succeeded.
I’d have said this example shows how much experimentation is close to this transition. The discovery comes in the same week as researchers announced the discovery of a bizarre vegetarian relative of the T-Rex. The Yi qi fossil was discovered by a local farmer in Mutoudeng, Qinglong County, Hebei Province in China. The fossil has preserved stiff filamentous features on the forelimb and hind-limb, along with patches of the membrane that once stretched across its wings.
However, it was the strange wrists and long rod-like bones that extended from them that baffled the attention of the paleontologists. There are three main groups of flying vertebrates – the birds, which evolved from dinosaurs, pterosaurs which were flying reptiles that existed alongside the dinosaurs, and the bats, which are mammals that evolved after the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
Most winged avian dinosaurs to be discovered so far all have wing structures that are similar to those of modern birds. However, Yi qi, which is pronounced “ee chee”, appears to be a strange hybrid between a dinosaur and a bat. This has also suggested that at the time numerous different types of winged dinosaurs evolved wings in an attempt to fly. This analysis by Professor Xu and his coworkers, which is published in the journal Nature, proposes that it is likely that, the dinosaur glided, perhaps like modern flying squirrels.
The Dinobot lacked the strong muscle attachments to the forelimb bones and its bone structure would have interfered with the flapping and rotating movements needed during powered flight. Instead, it may have launched itself from elevated perches and glided to the ground. If it did flap its wings it would probably have only been able to fly over short distances.
But Professor Xu said: “We thought giving this animal a name meaning “strange wing” was appropriate because no other bird or dinosaur has a wing of the same kind. We don’t know if Yi qi was flapping, gliding, or both, but it definitely evolved a wing that is unique in the context of the transition from dinosaurs to birds.
It is likely that the conclusions will be controversial among other evolutionary biologists, but they could prove hugely valuable in unraveling how birds evolved from their dinosaur ancestors. Professor Zheng Xiaoting, from Linyi University in Shandong who also took part in the study, said: Yi qi lived in the Jurassic, so it was a pioneer in the evolution of flight on the line to birds. Thus, it reminds us that the early history of flight was full of innovations, not all of which survived.
Dr. Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California Berkeley, warned that the animal may not have been able to fly at all. The fossil of Yi qi was discovered by a farmer working his fields in Mutoudeng in Qinglong County in China, He also said: As for gliding, if Yi qi’s styli-form element helped to support a membranous aero-foil.
Dinobat can be used to rebuild the planform of the wing, as Xu and colleagues have done. But in a gliding animal, the center of lift of the aerofoil should be fairly congruent with the center of gravity of the body if the bulk of the animal’s weight falls too far behind the center of lift, the back end will sag and the animal will stall.
That is clearly the case in the authors’ reconstruction of Yi qi, but an aero-foil that was swept back more, if anatomically possible, might have mitigated this problem. Still, we’re left in a quandary; an animal with a bizarre structure that looks as if it could have been used in flight, borne by an animal that otherwise shows no such tendencies. And so far, there’s no other plausible explanation for the function of this structure.