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A fossil discovery in China is shaking up the scientific world by providing new evidence that suggests birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Chinese scientists announced yesterday they had unearthed the fossil of a previously unknown avian "dinosaur" with the ability to fly.

This is the first time in China that the fossils of a flying avian "dinosaur" have been found - and the second time in the world these kinds of fossil have been discovered.

Ji Qiang, a professor with the Institute of Geology under the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, said an archaeopteryx - a primitive flying creature with both the features of a dinosaur and a bird - had been discovered in Germany 140 years ago.

A scientific group led by Ji unearthed fossils of a "dinosaur" whose major features were those of a bird earlier this year at Yixian County of Jinzhou, Northeast China's Liaoning Province.

The specimen, which dates from the Early Cretaceous period, has no teeth and its fore-limbs are longer than the hind-limbs. It has a U-shaped wishbone and the length of its flying feathers is longer than the total length of its ulna and manus.

"Because it has obvious bird-like features, the specimen cannot be defined as 'dinosaur' but as an avialae bird, or primeval bird with both the features of a dinosaur and a bird," Ji said.

Chinese scientists have named the new specimen Shenzhouraptor sinensis. "Shenzhou" means China and "raptor" and "sinensis" are Latin words meaning "grabber" and "China" respectively.

Ji said there was little doubt the species was capable of flight, representing a missing link between theropod dinosaurs and birds.

The scientists' research findings were published in this month's issue of the Geological Bulletin of China and its English version is expected to be published in the scientific journal Nature.

Several new species of dinosaurs with feather-like characteristics have been discovered in fossil beds of western Liaoning since 1996. The first dinosaur with primitive feathers, the Sinosauropteryx, was discovered there.

But the fossils are often incomplete, and the feather structures are more likely for the purpose of staying warm.

Scientists said the new fossil clearly showed how primitive feathers developed into flight feathers and how birds gained the ability to fly.


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