When I started to get serious about the Dinosaur Renaissance many years ago, I never dreamed that it will take me this far. If the speed of change of the image of the Dinosauria has been dazzling… what can I say about this latest paleo-release in the prestigious Nature magazine?
Meet Yi qi. A fully feathered dinosaur with what appear bat-like or pterosaur-like wings! The fossil is not very clear on the extent of the patagium … in my version here I have adopted a frontal view that jumps the gun regarding what we still don’t know for sure.
As a contrast I’m adding an initial sketch in “classic” mode. At the end I decided that despite being more or less accurate, it tended to look like a gargoyle,,, a chimera, And this is far from being a fantasy animal,,, it is reality preserved in stone! Don’t be fooled by the apparent “fourth finger” It is digits 1, 2, 3 like any dinosaur plus an elongated wrist bone! According to the authors of the paper Xing Xu et al “In particular, the rod-like bone of Yi is strikingly similar to the enlarged carpally situated element seen in some petauristines, including the Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leuco-genys“
For me it puts the nail once and for on the argument that feathers developed primarily to fly… this is an obvious arboreal animal, but for this dinosaur, evolution forgot that it had feathers and developed an extended membrane to create its wings. Just like pterosaurs, bats and flying squirrels, only it is an obvious feathered animal that had long tail feathers like the famous Epidexipteryx. Epidexipteryx in turn may have had patagium too, like possibly Scansioriopteryx and Epidendrosaurus, with their extremely elongated third fingers, but it was not preserved in them!
How good could it fly is a bone of contention that will spark no doubt heated debate. Maybe it could only glide from one branch to another or maybe it managed some sort of battering of the wings… but it is evident that wings it had!
It also demonstrates that for us, 169 million years of evolution from a natural group of animals (some call them a “Class”) is too much to grasp. The full extent of variety of animals may lay hidden or might have been lost forever. And the more we know, the more we understand that there might be much more that we actually haven’t discovered yet!
I was requested this image by many people. My version of Yi comes after tracing on the fossil and studying Nature’s paper (graciously provided by no other than Henry Gee himself). Scott Hartman had the good sense of adding some very valuable input, specially regarding the distribution of feathers… was the wing membrane also feathered? It is far from being definitive and Scott has promised to do a full anatomical review in the near future… in the meantime, I had to do something about it!