The picture above, from National Geographic, and the one below, from Science News, are artist’s conceptions of Yi qi, another winged dinosaur, found in China and described recently in the journal Nature by Xing Xu and colleagues. This one is pigeon-sized, much smaller than the “poodle from hell” I wrote about a few days ago. The name is Mandarin for “strange wing,” and is pronounced “yee chee.”
This winged theropod lived about 160 million years ago, and only one individual has has yet been found. (A theropod is a particular category of dinosaur, from some of which all modern birds descended.)
The fossil is incomplete, missing the hind parts; so the tail in the paintings represents the artist’s imagination.
Unlike the early ancestors of birds, it had a naked, bat-like membrane stretched between the digits of its forelimbs and its body. While it had feathers, there were none on its wings except for the leading edges.
Because of the missing tail, we don’t know whether the creature could actually glide or fly or both; but the discoverers are guessing from its weight distribution it probably glided mostly.
Two ways reptiles flew
For decades, it has been thought that reptiles took to the skies in one of two ways.
(1.) Many dinosaurs grew feathers–mostly fuzzy pin feathers–probably as protection for their bodies, in the same way fur provides such protection for mammals. Later, some of these developed into long, strong feathers for gliding; and eventually some small, feathered dinosaurs developed wings covered with feathers for flying.
(2.) Pterosaurs, however, were a different branch of reptile which never developed feathers. They flew with long, leathery, bat-like wings.
Yi qi took a strange middle path. It had feathers on it’s body, but only on the leading edges of it’s wings. The rest of the wings were just covered with skin like a pterosaur’s wing.
Nature provided the following amusing video about Yi qi’s possible flight capabilities.
“There are many questions remaining to answer about this bizarre dinosaur,” says Xu, who is making plans to search for more specimens.
In the late Jurassic period, when Yi lived, there were all manner of dinosaurs with varying shapes, sizes, and numbers of wings. It was a world of not-quite-birds and just-about-birds—and now bat-winged dinosaurs, too! [National Geographic]
“What a grand age of experimentation!” says Daniel Ksepka from the Bruce Museum, who was not involved in the study.”