A Bizarre New Flying Dinosaur, With Bat-Like Wings And Feathers

When it comes to big fossil finds, China is full of surprises. The latest dinosaur discovery, announced today in Nature, is a bizarre chicken-sized animal with a delightfully short scientific name, Yi qi, Mandarin for “strange wing” (pronounced “yee chee”). Yi is a new type of scansoriopterygid, a family of small feathered dinosaurs with unusually long fingers, including forms like Epidexipteryx. The extensively feathered fossil of Yi hails from the Middle-Late Jurassic (160-165 million years old) of Hebei Province, in northern China. It preserves a rod-like prop extending from the wrist along with patches of bare, featherless tissue around the hands. The most likely explanation is that the digits and bony rod supported membranous wing like in modern bats or mythical dragons. It is unclear if Yi was capable of powered flight or simply glided.

The specimen of the new dinosaur Yi qi found in Hebei Province, China, a bizarre bat-winged beast that lived about 160 million years ago. Zang Hailong/IVPP

The first palaeontologists to hear about the discovery were taken back by the oddness of the bony rod or styliform element. Dr Thomas R Holtz Jr, a palaeontologist at the University of Maryland, unconnected with the study, told us via email that:

I [and others] were suspicious that it wasn’t really part of the animal, but instead maybe a plant branch or other object that coincidentally was right under the wrist. But chemical analysis of it shows it really is derived from bone. Source: IFLScience

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