According to a team of paleontologists from Europe and China, the discovery of a new bird-like dinosaur from the Jurassic period challenges widely accepted theories on the origin of flight.
Over many years, it has become accepted among paleontologists that birds evolved from a group of dinosaurs called theropods from the Early Cretaceous period of Earth’s history, around 120-130 million years ago.
Recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs from the older Middle-Late Jurassic period have reinforced this theory.
The newly found feathered, small-bodied dinosaur (about 30 cm in length), called Eosinopteryx brevipenna, and described this week in Nature Communications, provides additional evidence to this effect.
“This discovery sheds further doubt on the theory that the famous fossil Archaeopteryx – or ‘first bird’ as it is sometimes referred to – was pivotal in the evolution of modern birds,” said co-author Dr Gareth Dyke of the University of Southampton, UK.
“Our findings suggest that the origin of flight was much more complex than previously thought.”
The Eosinopteryx fossil from China indicates that, while feathered, this was a flightless dinosaur, because of its small wingspan and a bone structure that would have restricted its ability to flap its wings.
Eosinopteryx also had toes suited to walking along the ground and fewer feathers on its tail and lower legs, which would have made it easier to run.
Bibliographic information: Pascal Godefroit et al. Reduced plumage and flight ability of a new Jurassic paravian theropod from China. Nature Communications 4, article number: 1394; doi: 10.1038/ncomms2389