Published: Thu, March 02, 2017
Research | By Jo Caldwell

This Laser Reconstruction of a Four-Winged Dinosaur Is Incredible

This Laser Reconstruction of a Four-Winged Dinosaur Is Incredible

Scientists said on Tuesday they used the method on fossils of the chicken-sized, feathered, bird-like dinosaur Anchiornis that lived in China about 160 million years ago, finding it possessed drumstick-shaped legs, arms similar to the wings of some modern gliding and soaring birds, and a long, slender tail.

The study produced the first highly detailed body outline of such a feathered dinosaur, "a real landmark in our understanding of avian origins", Pittman said.

Scientists have revealed details of a chicken-like dinosaur that existed around the same time birds first appeared on Earth.

A research team from the University of Hong Kong, using high-powered lasers have discovered one-of-its-kind traces of soft tissue, trapped in the fossils of Anchiornis - a particular ancient four-winged dinosaur that is estimated to live during the late Jurassic period. This technique directs lasers of high power towards fossils placed in a dark room.

The researchers, led by Michael Pitman from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hong Kong used a new revolutionary technology called Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF) to disclose the tantalizing shapes of soft tissue in the region of the fossilised carcass of a four-wing dinosaur called Anchiornis.

The characteristics of the skeleton and soft tissue of Anchiornis are incredibly similar to those found in birds.

The folds of skin in front of the elbow and behind the wrist-called propatagium-were covered in feathers, just like in modern living birds.

The imaging technique highlighted soft tissues alongside the bones of the dinosaur that are not visible under any other conditions.

The scientists found, for example, that this dinosaur shared numerous features that modern birds possess, such as drumstick-shaped legs. The creature also had propatagia, or membranes, that "could produce a relatively straight arm, a posture broadly found in many living gliding birds", the study says. But it is unclear whether Anchiornis could get airborne. But, as the researchers point out, more work is needed to determine if Anchiornis could actually leave the ground or jump off a tree or cliff in any meaningful way. Colored areas represent different fossil specimens and black areas are approximated reconstructions.

"The fact that we find this really neat wing in an older bird-like animal is really exciting", said Pittman. Thanks to this discovery, we're now an important step closer to understanding the origin of birds, and how they evolved the capacity for flight.

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