‘Bizarre’ bat-winged dinosaur discovered in China

Posted at 8:10 AM, Apr 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-30 08:10:33-04

(CNN) — Chinese scientists say they have discovered a new dinosaur species, with bat-like wings, that sheds light on how dinosaurs may have evolved into birds.

Based on a fossil specimen discovered in China’s Hebei province a decade ago, scientists estimate the bird-like dinosaur existed for a very short time 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period, according to a new paper published in scientific journal Nature on Wednesday.

The flying creature weighed about 230 grams and was 63 centimeters in length.

Xu Xing, a paleontologist with China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and lead author of the report, told CNN the dinosaur’s fossilized remains highlighted the complexity of evolution.

Named Yi qi, or “strange wing” in Chinese, Xu said it was one of the earliest dinosaurs to show some capacity for flight — even though it wasn’t very successful.

Unlike other bird-like dinosaurs, its wings were made from membranes — like a bat — rather than composed of feathers.

It didn’t become the birds we see today — it tried but failed.

‘Failed experiment’

“It’s a failed experiment, it’s an evolutionary dead end,” Xu said.

“Over the last 30 years, there were so many discoveries made that demonstrate birds are really descendants of dinosaurs,” he said.

“It’s a great example showing how dinosaurs evolved into birds.”

Even though the dinosaur had wings, Xu said it’s unclear whether it could flap them and most likely moved through the air mostly by gliding.

He told CNN the fossil is now held in a museum in Shandong Province, and the next step would be trying to find more fossils of the same species to be able to better understand, for example, its flight capability.

Thanks to a robust economy, China has become a major center for dinosaur discovery and research.

“We have more funding for paleontological expeditions,” he said. “So now there are more expeditions in this country than 30 years ago, which means you can find more fossils.

Widespread construction work also helps to expose more rocks and fossils, he added.