Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Fossil of Flying 'Dinosaur' Found in Northeast China

Chinese scientists announced Monday the discovery of a flying theropod dinosaur fossil in northeast China,the only parallel to the archaeopteryx, the most primitive avialae bird found in Germany in 1860.


Chinese scientists announced Monday in Beijing the discovery of a flying theropod dinosaur fossil in northeast China, the only parallel to the archaeopteryx, the most primitive avialae bird found in Germany in 1860.

Doctor Ji Qiang with the Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences said that the fossil named Shenzhouraptor Sinensis was discovered this May in an Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation in Yixian County in Liaoning Province.

Characterized by a lack of teeth and with front limbs longer than its hind-limbs, the new specimen has a long tail with more than 20 caudal vertebrae, a U-shaped breastbone and feathers longer than the total length of ulna and manus in its front limbs.

Judging from its shoulder girdle, pelvic girdle, breastbone, limbs and feathers, Ji said it was certain that the new avialae bird was really capable of flight and is the missing link between theropod dinosaurs and modern birds.

As for how high and how far the bird with its main body as large as a dove could fly, further study and research are still tobe made.

Ji also pointed out the Shenzhouraptor Sinensis has a longer tail than the archaeopteryx.

Its first toes have not yet turned inwards like the archaeopteryx who, with the help of the hallux, could climbed a tree, grasp branches and jump downwards to glide.

In contrast, Ji said, the flight of the Shenzhouraptor Sinensisbegan with fast running from higher places to the lower places.

"Although the discovery of the new avialae bird gives substantial support to the cursorial (adapted to running) theory, the arboreal theory when studying archaeopteryx can never be excluded," he said.

"Probably", Ji said, "the small, carnivorous and ground-dwelling dinosaurs have diverged into two kinds during their evolution to birds. This means some had to climb up trees to fly and others had to run fast first."

Study of the origin of birds began in about the 1850s. Opposingtheories have caused academic debate for more than a century as noconvincing evidence was produced to prove or disprove either that birds were descended from dinosaurs or from non-dinosaur reptiles.

The academic conflict gradually lessened as the fossil discoveries made by Ji Qiang and his research team in a fossil bedof western Liaoning province beginning in 1996 gave a clearer proof about the relationship between dinosaurs and birds.

Their fossil finds include the Sinosauropteryx, the Protarchaeopteryx and the Caudipteryx which are all non-avian theropod dinosaurs covered with evolving feathers.

A complete picture of the evolution from dinosaurs to birds still could not be drawn as critics said that the crucial link, a "dinosaur" capable of flight, was missing.

"The discovery of the Shenzhouraptor Sinensis has filled the gap, brought the long-standing debate to an end and taken researchto a higher level," said Zhang Hongtao, deputy head of the State Geological Bureau.

With the increase of avialae bird fossil finds, Ji said, many intermediary members have appeared and that may set off a new round of debate or discussion about the definition of birds.

So far, the popular theory is still that birds came from the archaeopteryx.

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