Paleontologists Dig Up a Dragon (Sort Of)

Saturday, 18 July 2015 - 1:00PM
Saturday, 18 July 2015 - 1:00PM
Paleontologists in north-east China have discovered an almost perfect fossil of a huge dinosaur. The catch? This one has wings. Dating back to 125-million years ago, Zhenyuanlong (meaning "Zhenyuan's dragon") is thought by scientists to have been an ancestor of the velociraptor.

The newly discovered species reportedly has "short arms" and is "covered in feathers," according to lead researcher Dr. Steve Brusatte. Scientists have found fossils of other winged prehistoric beasts (such as the Pterosaur and the Archaeopteryx, to name a few), but this one raises a lot of questions.

"This is the first time that we have wings found on a dinosaur this big with short arms. There's no way it could fly," Brusatte explained to CNN. "That raises a big mystery. Why did dinosaurs evolve wings?"

This newfound species may provide further insight into the relationship between birds and dinosaurs. Evolutionary scientists have long believed that avians are descendants of the dinosaurs, and many have come to believe that bird-like features may have been present in the ancestral condition of the prehistoric reptiles. The discovery of the Zhenyuanlong seemingly provides evidence for this theory; Dr. John Nudds, a professor of paleontology at the University of Manchester, said this discovery could mean "that certainly a lot…and possibly even all of them [the dinosaurs] had feathers or at least downy hair."

The thought of a flying velociraptor is certainly enough to make you wet your pants, but thankfully, the Zhenyuanlong was likely unable to fly due to its large body size. It's thought that perhaps they used their wings to protect eggs, or for aesthetic/mating purpose, or maybe even to glide from tree to tree.

But no matter what the Zhenyuanlong used them for, the picture of a winged velociraptor is still some very frightening imagery. Dr. Brusatte said it best: "It will blow some people's minds to realize that those dinosaurs in the movies would have been even weirder, and I think even scarier - like big fluffy birds from hell."

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