The study that announced the discovery of a new species of a small feathered dinosaur, which lived about 120 million years ago, was published in the Anatomical Record. It was carried out through the analysis of a fossil that provided several important details regarding bones and feathers. Fossils of feathered dinosaurs have always been among the most important to understand the evolutionary transition phase that took place between the dinosaurs themselves and the advent of birds.
This is also the case of this study, as Ashley Poust, a researcher at the Museum of Natural History in San Diego who has been studying these finds for several years. The study of the feathers and the body of this new small dinosaur could be very useful, among other things, to understand how flight developed in the distant past of the first birds.
The new species of feathered dinosaur has been named Wulong bohaiensis: the first term is a Chinese word for “dancing dragon.” The fossil, in the form of an imprinted trace, was found more than 10 years ago by a Chinese farmer in the province of Jehol, an area known for its fossil findings.
The dinosaur was slightly larger than a modern-day crow and had a characteristic bony tail that more than doubled in length. The mouth was full of sharp teeth and the bones were quite thin and relatively small. It was a feathered animal and had two long plumes right at the end of its tail.
According to the researchers, it was one of the first ancestors of the Velociraptor, the well-known teropod dinosaur that lived 75 million years ago. However, the closest relative of the Wulong is the Microraptor, a kind of four-winged bird that lived in about the same era as the Wulong. Researchers have used the technique of bone histology, a technique that is increasingly used by paleontologists to analyze fossils of this kind but which requires the removal and a much more direct study of the findings, something that museums and those responsible for the fossils themselves do not always allow.
The researchers have discovered that it was a young specimen, something which has partly surprised researchers as this specimen showed a remarkable amount of feathers, even of the showy ones, something unusual, at least for what the young birds of today are concerned, where the showiest feathers grow up only in old age, when the animal is ready for the mating.