For a brief period at the end of the Jurassic period, a dinosaur weighing no more than a Chinchilla hopped around a tree, spreading its wings and trying to fly. In theory, this sounds beautiful, and it's an early attempt by birds before they figure out a blueprint.
In fact, it's messy.
The dinosaur was wary, barely able to glide, stretching out and shaking its flaps, down feathers, and wings to bravely try to fly. 'It was flying from tree to tree, desperately trying to keep things from crashing into each other,' said Alex Dececchi, a paleontologist at Marty University in Mount Dakota. "It won't be pleasant."
Not surprisingly, B was not an ancestor of modern birds. It died out in just a few million years, presumably because it lacked aerial capabilities. In a study published Thursday in iScience, Dececchi and other researchers analyzed how Yiqi and the dinosaur Ampopteryx flew. Both animals are scansoriopterygids, a little-known group of small dinosaurs. The researchers don't expect either to be brilliant flyers, but their results paint a picture of bringing creatures that aren't really at home, between trees or in the sky.
Discovered by a farmer in northeast China, Yiqi was first described in 2015 by Paleontologists Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Zheng Xiaoting of Linyi University. When Dececchi first learned about the bizarre anatomy of dinosaurs, he was astounded. "I can't print what I'm saying," he says.
In addition to bat-like wings that have never been seen in dinosaurs before, Yi Qi has a long bone protruding from its wrist. "It's like Edward Scissorhands," said Michael Pittman, a paleontologist at the University of Hong Kong and author of the paper.
In 2018, Dececchi showed Yi Qi a scientific method of teaching in one of his classes: "It's a strange creature. What do you think of it?" The more he thought about the question, the more questions he wanted to answer.
When Dececchi presented a preliminary paper on Yi Qi at a conference in 2018, he saw a similar paper by Arindam Roy, a graduate student at Pittman Lab. The scientists decided to work with Pittman to reconstruct the dinosaur's wing and to simulate flight by Dececchi. When describing Ambopteryx in 2018, scientists included dinosaurs in their research.
Dr. Pittman's lab scanned the fossils using a technique called laser-stimulated fluorescence to detect soft tissue that might have gone unnoticed when it was first described as "qi gain. The laser technology revealed new soft tissue around the neck and face and provided close-up images of the membrane, which allowed Pittman to modify the model to make what Eich's wings looked like.
Using the wing model, Dececchi tested the dinosaur through a series of mathematical models to test its flight ability. "I try to give them the benefit of the doubt: the biggest wing, the biggest muscle, the fastest flap," he said.
These creatures failed even the most generous dinosaur models. Their pectoral muscles are too weak to flap and fly. They couldn't sprint out of the ground fast enough. They are poor Turners. They couldn't even take off from a ramp as they ran wildly flapping their wings.
The only scene left is a seething slide, in which the dinosaur stretches out his arms like a squirrel and jumps from tree to tree, swirling from branch to branch.
Xu xu, who led the study and first described Yiqi, said he found the new paper's analysis rigorous, though he was a little surprised by how badly the dinosaurs seemed to fly. "I don't think this is the final decision on the Yi's ability to fly," he said. He added that finding better-preserved specimens might have produced different results.
"It's a good exploration of an odd-numbered population," said Jingmai O'Connor, curator of fossil reptiles at the Field Museum. "But the authors seem to have read too much about the few poorly preserved specimens." She points out that only three adults are known to science.
The strategies of Qi rejuvenation and Ambopteryx may work in the short term. But as the early birds flew through the sky, the eagle-sized pterosaurs reared from above and the Wolff-sized dinosaurs salivated from below, scanning monopteral was wiped out.
Although their failed flights don't tell much about how real birds evolved from dinosaurs, they illuminate the many ways in which creatures tried to take to the sky. "The more fossils we find," said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study. "The more we see how messy this evolutionary shift became."
In Dececchi's view, if dinosaurs had had more time to evolve to match their awkward teenage years, they might have been doomed. "So today," he said, "you might have bats and birds and these strange and wonderful things."
The above information is provided by the dinosaur models manufacturer.