University of Edinburgh researcher discovers new feathered dinosaur species

A new species of winged, feathered dinosaur was discovered and named by a University of Edinburgh palaeontologist in northeastern China last month.

The fossilised remains were found to be about six feet long, making it the largest winged dinosaur discovered to date. It is estimated to have lived about 125 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period.

Fossilised remains of Zhenyuanlong suni

Fossilised remains of Zhenyuanlong suni

The discovery, announced July 16, was made by Dr Stephen Brusatte, a Chancellor’s Fellow in Vertebrate Paleontology at the University, and his colleague Dr Junchang Lu of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

The dinosaur, named Zhenyuanlong suni by Brusatte and Lu, is remarkable for the way it was preserved. It had nearly a full skeleton that contained traces of feathers.

Alive, it would have looked like a bird, similar to a turkey or a big chicken.

Although it had wings and resembled a bird, the scientists doubted it could fly: its arms were too short in proportion to its body. The findings prompted broader questions of why wings evolved in the first place.

Speaking to The Student, Brusatte provided a few explanations for the purpose of the wings.  They could have been used for display, in mating processes or as a means to help brood eggs in the nest.

When asked if the location of Zhenyuanlong’s discovery contributed to its state of preservation, Brusatte agreed.

He told The Student: “The volcanoes in Northeastern China buried many dinosaurs very quickly, turning them into fossils as they went about their everyday life, like a prehistoric Pompeii.”

Dr Stephen Brusatte

Dr Stephen Brusatte

Brusatte is confident that more examples of Zhenyuanlong will be found in the Liaoning Province, which houses the 125 million year old rocks of northeastern China.

He explained: “We are in the middle of the most exciting phase in the history of palaeontology. Somebody is finding a totally new species of dinosaur, on average, once a week. So there are about fifty new species coming to light every ear, plus a whole bunch of fossils of species we already new about.”

“We are very lucky that these volcanoes buried these dinosaurs. The dinosaurs, not so lucky’, he quips. His hope is to discover new species that one can only dream about in the near future.

The research was first published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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