Lasers flesh out dino-bird profile

February 28, 2017
Revised life reconstruction using the new body outline laser-stimulated fluorescence data. Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi.

A chicken-sized, feathered dinosaur that scuttled around Earth 160 million years ago is helping flesh out the missing link between land-bound animals and flying ones, scientists said Tuesday.

A team from China and the United States used lasers to study traces of soft tissue once attached to the now-fossilised bones of a Jurassic dinosaur called Anchiornis.

The outlines revealed it had "drumstick-shaped legs, a slender tail and an arm that looks just like a modern bird wing," said Michael Pittman of the University of Hong Kong, who co-authored the study in Nature Communications.

"We even have foot scales preserved in the Anchiornis specimens that are just like chickens today," he said in a video explaining the findings.

It is still not clear if Anchiornis was a flier.

Most of what scientists know about dinosaur body shape is gleaned from looking at fossilised skeletons and comparing them to living dinosaur relatives— and crocodiles.

Pittman and a team used potent lasers to study the fossil-containing rock and isolate the imprint of the fleshy parts.

"We shone violet lasers at Anchiornis specimens in a dark room to cause them to glow in the dark, revealing amazing details," said Pittman.

"This revealed the first quantitative high-detail outline of a ."

https://youtu.be/8gCKXPuyASA

Scientists believe the study of Anchiornis is key to understanding the origin of birds, and of flight.

The creature is thought to have lived at about the same time that birds first appeared on Earth.

The lasers revealed a flap at the front of the creature's elbow, the team said.

In modern birds, this is called the propatagium—the boneless leading edge of the wing, covered in feathers, and crucial for flight.

Coloured areas represent different fossil specimens and black areas are approximated reconstructions. For the first time we have an accurate body outline of a bird-like dinosaur. Credit: Wang XL, Pittman M et al. 2017.

"The fact that we find this really neat wing in an older bird-like animal is really exciting," said Pittman.

It is hoped the new data will help unravel how, and when, birds evolved from Earth-bound into sky-soaring creatures.

In 2010, a study of Anchiornis' feathers revealed it had sported a grey body, a reddish-brown Mohawk crest and facial speckles.

The folds of skin in front of the elbow and behind the wrist (called patagia) were covered in feathers, just like in modern living birds. Credit: Wang XL, Pittman M et al. 2017.

Explore further: New dinosaur fossil challenges bird evolution theory

More information: Basal paravian functional anatomy illuminated by high-detail body outline, Nature Communications, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ncomms14576

Related Stories

Early birds had an old-school version of wings

November 21, 2012

In comparison to modern birds, the prehistoric Archaeopteryx and bird-like dinosaurs before them had a more primitive version of a wing. The findings, reported on November 21 in Current Biology, lend support to the notion ...

Origin of birds confirmed by exceptional new dinosaur fossils

September 25, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Chinese scientists today reveal the discovery of five remarkable new feathered dinosaur fossils which are significantly older than any previously reported. The new finds are indisputably older than Archaeopteryx, ...

Recommended for you

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...

Chance discovery of forgotten 1960s 'preprint' experiment

November 16, 2017

For years, scientists have complained that it can take months or even years for a scientific discovery to be published, because of the slowness of peer review. To cut through this problem, researchers in physics and mathematics ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.