The four-winged dinosaur that ate birds

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We now know that birds evolved from small, feathered dinosaurs. It’s easy to think that since birds are still around today, they must have come after their dinosaur* cousins, but that’s not true. In the Cretaceous period, dinosaurs were still around while their descendants flitted through the skies. And some dinosaurs made meals of their flighty relatives. Jingmai O’Connor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has uncovered the remains of a small dinosaur called Microraptor that has the bones of small bird in its gut.

O’Connor analysed the fossil with Xing Xu, a Chinese scientist who has made a career from discovering beautiful feathered dinosaurs. Microraptor is one of his most important finds. This tiny animal, about the size of a pigeon, had four wings, with long feathers on both of its legs as well as its arms. It was, at the very least, a very competent glider, if not a true flier.

dinosaur that ate birds

The dinosaurs specimen that O’Connor and Xu have studied isn’t the best preserved Microraptor around. However, it does clearly have the remains of a small bird in its gut, including the left wing and both feet. There aren’t enough bones to tell which species it was, but the distinctive shape of its leg bone singles it out as one of the enantiornithines, an extinct group of early birds. They were, after all, one of the most common groups of birds in the forests of China, where Microraptor hunted.

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