Wings Aplenty: Dinosaur Species Had Feathered Hind Limbs
Perkins, S., Science News
A team of Chinese paleontologists has discovered two nearly complete fossils of a small, feathered dinosaur that they say had four wings. The new species may represent an intermediate on the path to today's birds.
The slim creature, which the paleontologists dubbed Microraptor gui, measured nearly 1 meter from its snout to the tip of its feathered tail and lived about 130 million years ago in what is now northeastern China. Besides having forelimbs that resemble the wings of modern birds, the animal sported long feathers from thigh to foot on each hind limb.
Despite their plumage, these hind limbs probably didn't flap to provide propulsion. M. gui may have glided from tree to tree like today's flying squirrels do, speculates a research team led by Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing. The front and rear limbs on each side of the animal would make a perfect airfoil if they were held together to form one continuous surface, the researchers note in the Jan. 23 Nature.
Several of the dozen or so large feathers on each of M. gui's limbs were asymmetrical: the vane on one side of the feather's spine was wider than the one on the other. This nuance of design strongly suggests these feathers served an aerodynamic purpose, says Richard O. Prum of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
The added wing area from M. …