A fossil found in China has revealed one of the most unusual dinosaurs ever discovered. The Changyuraptor, which is the subject of research published in Nature Communications, had long tail feathers that allowed it to fly in a way more like a modern day plane than a modern day bird. The dinosaur had four “wings,” and was, according to the study, carnivorous.

Changyuraptor dinosaur

The study concerning the Changyuraptor was authored by Luis Chiappe, from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, among others. The research was published by Nature Communications today after being accepted for publication in June. According to the research Changyuraptor means “long-feathered raptor,” and the fossil represents the largest four winged dinosaur ever discovered.

Changyuraptor dinosaur takes flight

It’s unclear from the fossils whether the Changyuraptor was able to fly under its own power or if it was just a glider. According to the fossil found in the Chinese cave the dinosaur was more than four foot long, making it much larger than the previous record holder the Microraptor. The dinosaur was feathered, like many of the Cretaceous-era dinosaurs found in that part of China.

Flying Dinosaurs

“It is difficult to say, and controversial, whether an animal like Changyuraptor was able to take off from the ground or launch from a perch,”according to Chiappe. He says that it is clear that the tail was used as an air brake of sorts, writing, “We do know that they were very maneuverable animals and our study shows that they used their tail to slow down while they landed.”

The feathers on the animal’s tail and hind legs are perhaps the most important note about its design. The dinosaur has the longest feathers of any non-avian dinosaur ever discovered with its tail feather measuring around 30 cm, 30% of the length of its entire skeleton. The dinosaurs apparently weighed around 9 pounds, making it much heavier than other four winged flying dinosaurs.

Changyuraptor brings feathers to life

The Changyuraptor lived approximately 125 million years ago in Northern China, an area that has become a hot-bed of research into dinosaurs that lived during the Cretaceous era. Chiappe says that “At a foot in length, the amazing tail feathers of Changyuraptor are by far the longest of any feathered dinosaur,” reminding the world that many of the dinosaurs imagined around the world take the wrong form as they were, in fact covered with feathers.

The non-avian dinosaurs are those classed as those that are not modern birds. There is an evolutionary continuum from the Triassic period to the modern day that results in the classification of the sparrow as a dinosaur. The term non-avian is used in scientific works to ensure that the correct image is being imagined. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Changyuraptor didn’t sport feathers.