More than 160 million years ago, the forests of ancient China were home to a bizarre predator: a tiny dinosaur that glided from tree to tree with leathery, bat-like wings. The newfound fossil, unveiled today in the journal Nature, is just the second feathered dinosaur found with signs of large membranes on its wings. Fitting, then, that the animal's newly assigned genus name is Ambopteryx: Latin for “both wings.”
“The most exciting thing, for me, is that it shows that some dinosaurs evolved very different structures to become volant,” or capable of some form of flight, says lead study author Min Wang, a paleontologist at China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.
Ambopteryx is now the best known fossil of a scansoriopterygid (scan-soary-OP-teh-rigid), an oddball group of nonavian dinosaurs that includes Yi qi, the first dinosaur ever found with bat-like wings. That fossil find—announced in 2015 by study coauthor Xing Xu, the IVPP's deputy director—reshaped how scientists understood the evolution of flight.
“Before the discovery of Yi qi, every flying dinosaur we found, we tried to fit on one evolutionary lineage toward birds,” says study coauthor Jingmai O'Connor, an IVPP paleontologist who specializes in ancient birds. “Yi qireally just shattered that idea.” (O'Connor also helped describe the first bird fossil found with an egg inside.)
Some researchers now think that flight arose at least four separate times within dinosaurs, including among scansoriopterygids. But healthy skepticism around Yi qi lingered. The animal has strange, rod-like bones called styliform elements that jut off its wrists, and paleontologists thought they might b