Scientists have discovered yet another kind of airborne dinosaur. The latest is a four-winged dinosaur named Changyuraptor yangi. Sorry scientists, the only raptors I’ll ever accept are Jurassic Park’s.

Changyuraptor yangi was discovered back in 2012 in the Liaoning province in northeastern China. The first part of its name means ‘long-feathered raptor.’ The second part is in honor of a Chinese financial supporter.

The biggest four-winged dinosaur before this discovery was the Microraptor, clocking in at about the size of a seagull. The Changyuraptor yangi weighed 3 times as much as the Microraptor and was substantially larger. The discovery changes scientists’ early perception of the first flying creatures. Most of the creatures were thought to be small. The Changyuraptor yangi discovery changes that.

The fossil was incredibly well-preserved and gave scientists a detailed look at the dinosaur’s feathers. The Changyuraptor yangi sported foot-long tail feathers. These extremely long tail feathers are believed to have helped the raptor avoid crash landings.

The long feathers weren’t just on its tail. They also extended to its hind legs, making it one of only a few dinosaurs that are classified as “four-winged.” The hind leg feathers are believed to have helped stabilize the raptor in flight and help slow down for landings.

Besides big feathers, the Changyuraptor yangi was bigger than other four-winged dinosaurs. It was 60% bigger than the next largest four-winged dinosaur, the Microraptor, and is estimated to have weighed 9 pounds, compared to the Microraptor’s 3 pounds.

One part scientists are unsure of is how the raptor flew. Did it fly or glide? Sceintists may never know for sure, but they were shocked to see something so large capable of getting in the air so early in the history of flying species.

The team published their findings in Nature Communications.

The Changyuraptor yangi gives us a rare glimpse at the earliest days of flight evolution. While small by typical dinosaur standards, the Changyuraptor yangi was a giant by flying dinosaur standards.

Image Credit: Stephanie Abramowicz/Dinosaur Institute, NHM

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