Dino flew with bat wings

Fossil demonstrates unusual experiment from the beginnings of flight evolution

Ambopteryx longibrachium had a pelt of feathers, but flew with membrane wings. © Min Wang / Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Evolutionary experiment: Not all dinosaurs set on feathered wings in their first flight attempts. Researchers have discovered the fossil of a dinosaur that rose with membrane wings in the air - as do today's bats. The find proves that the ancestors of today's birds initially experimented with different lifting solutions. But only one variant finally prevailed.

The pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to control the flies. From the late Triassic 215 million years to their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, these pterosaurs dominated the airspace. But they were not the only ones who rose to heaven. Even the ancestors of bats and birds conquered the air sometime in this time window. However, as the initial flight tests of these animals looked exactly, so far only partially understood.

A surprising piece of the puzzle to this puzzle provided a few years ago the discovery of a strange dinosaur fossil: The representative of the closely related to the birds and extremely small Scansoriopterygidae had indeed a feathery coat. In his lifetime, however, he had apparently lifted himself up with membrane wings - a structure that was hitherto completely unknown to dinosaurs and was actually considered typical of pterodactyls and bats.

The wings of little Dino are reminiscent of those of a bat. © Min Wang / Chinese Academy of Sciences

Strange wing

Accordingly, some experts reacted skeptically to this interpretation: Did the Yi qi ("strange wing") baptized species actually have membrane wings? Exactly this assumption is underpinned by another find: Pal ontologists around Min Wang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing discovered the 163 million-year-old fossil of a dinosaur with similar characteristics in northeastern China.

Ambopteryx longibrachium is also a member of the family Scansoriopterygidae and has like Yi qi membrane-like wings, which are clearly recognizable thanks to the good state of conservation. In addition, like his cousin, he has a remarkably elongated third finger and a long wrist bone, which probably helped to give stability to the membrane's skin. display

Experiment without success

The fossil thus proves definitively that bat wings were also common among dinosaurs. "In the beginning, the predecessors of today's birds apparently experimented with different wing structures, " explains the team. However, as we know today, the experiment started by the Scansoriopterygidae has been unsuccessful in the long term in the end, the feathered wings prevailed in the dinosaurs.

"This wing shape has been refined over the course of evolution and eventually paved the way for the success of modern birds - the most diverse group of land vertebrates today, " concludes the researchers. (Nature, 2019, doi: 10.1038 / s41586-019-1137-z)

Source: Nature Press / Chinese Academy of Sciences

- Daniel Albat