Newly discovered bat-like dinosaur not an ‘accomplished flyer’

Yi qi or ‘strange wing’ could have glided from tre to tree during the Jurassic Period

An artist’s impression of a new dinosaur, Yi qi which could have glided from tree to tree. Credit: Dinostar Co Ltd.

An artist’s impression of a new dinosaur, Yi qi which could have glided from tree to tree. Credit: Dinostar Co Ltd.

 

Scientists in China have unearthed a previously unknown species of dinosaur, one that might have had wings like a modern-day bat. And while it could have glided from tree to tree 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period in which it lived it was probably not an accomplished flyer.

China is proving to be one of the greatest repositories of feathered dinosaurs and primitive birds and the newcomer, named Yi qi or “strange wing” is a perfect example of this.

It belongs to a group of primitive bird-like creatures called the scansoriopterygids, but scientists had no evidence it might have had wings until this new study which is published on Wednesday evening in the journal Nature.

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Xu Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and Zheng Xiaoting of Linyi University in Shandong Province led a team of scientists who found that Yi qi had an unusual rod-shaped bone projecting from its wrist.

No one knew what this was for until a team member came across a very similar structure found in modern day bats and flying squirrels. In these animals it is a projection of bone or cartilage that helps spread out the skin wings on which these animals glide and fly. “No other bird or dinosaur has a wing of the same kind,” said Prof Xu.

These animals may have played their part in the evolution of birds but it was a very early version of a flighted animal and the evidence suggests it represented an evolutionary dead end, or at least an animal that did not see its wing form reproduced in later successful flighted animals.

“It reminds us that the early history of flight was full of innovations, not all of which survived,” said Prof Zheng.