Scientists have unearthed the astonishingly preserved, largest known dinosaur with wings. Titled Zhenyuanlong suni, a “fluffy feathered poodle from hell,” the creature was discovered by archaeologists fully preserved in northeastern China. The nearly complete fossil reveals a feathered dinosaur with wings like those of a bird and according to researchers its one of the fastest-running meat-eaters – about 1.8 metres long. It’s one of the oddest dinosaurs to be discovered by researchers with strikingly bizarre features: hair-like feathers over much of its body, with large, quill-like feathers on its wings and long tail, and bearing a mouth full of sharp teeth. It is believed to have lived about 125 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period.
University of Edinburgh palaeontologist Steve Brusatte dubbed the dinosaur, named Zhenyuanlong suni, a “fluffy feathered poodle from hell.” A member of the raptor group of dinosaurs closely related to birds, it was a cousin of Velociraptor, although that dinosaur — featured inaccurately in the Jurassic Park films as much bigger than it was — lived about 40-50 million years lateer.
“Zhenyuanlong was a dinosaur that really looked like a bird,” said Brusatte, who collaborated with Chinese palaeontologist Junchang Lu. “You wouldn’t think of it differently than a turkey or an emu or a big chicken.”
In their form and shape, its wings looked like those of a modern bird like an eagle or vulture.
“If you saw this wing on its own, you would probably think that Zhenyuanlong could fly. But it’s a fairly big raptor, and its arms are so short in proportion to its body, that I have a hard time believing that it could fly or glide or do anything in the air,” Brusatte said.
More likely, Brusatte said, Zhenyuanlong used its wings for display the way a peacock uses its tail feathers to attract mates and intimidate rivals. Another possibility is using the wings to brood eggs in the nest, Brusatte said.
Brusatte said finding a dinosaur with traits like Zhenyuanlong’s raises theories as to why wings evolved in the first place.
“Did they evolve specifically for flight? In that case, Zhenyuanlong perhaps descended from a flying ancestor and that’s why it still has wings. Or, alternatively, did wings first evolve for display or egg brooding or some other type of function, and then only in some dinosaurs were they later co-opted into airfoils for gliding and flying?”
Birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs. The oldest-known bird, crow-sized Archaeopteryx, lived about 150 million years ago.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.