The Microraptor Fossil Discovery Sheds Light on the Evolution of Flight
A recent discovery in northeastern China might shine new light on the evolution of flight for birds. This has been a highly debated topic for some time, since scientists are uncertain if flight began in trees or on the ground. The recent discovery of the Microraptor gui may provide evidence for either side of this particular heated debate. The Microraptor is a small carnivorous dinosaur that has long feathers attached to the hind limbs, arms and tail. The feathered limbs are thought to be a “four-winged” gliding characteristic of the Microraptor. Given that the feathers were used for gliding instead of flying, this supports the theory that flight began in the trees and not on land. If so, this finding will be seen as a very important stage in the evolution of flight for a bird.
The Microraptor fossil was discovered in the lakebeds of Liaoning, China. This finding has been proven to be that of a carnivorous vertebrate, which belongs to the dromaeosaurid species. The dromaeosaurid has long been considered to be a non-avian theropod. This discovery was made by Xu Xing and his colleges who are referred to as the Jehol Group. The Microraptor is a small dinosaur, with a length of only roughly 30.3 inches. It has a long tail and contains approximately 26 vertebrate, which is actually a relatively small number. A characteristic that makes the Microraptor different from other dromaeosaurids is that its sternum is a single flat plate rather than two unfused plates. The Microraptor's trunk length is relatively short, but it nevertheless makes up about 50% of the hind limb length. The Microraptor is considered a Dromaeosauridae because of its size, both small and compact, which is more near the size for flight of a dinosaur. The feathers are attached to the skull, hind limbs, arms and tail. These feathers measure anywhere from 9 inches to 15 inches in length, pending where they are located on the body and just how well preserved they were around the skeleton fossil. The fossil also showed veins running along the feathers, but they seemed to be more for blood flow instead of supplying support for flight. The Microraptor possesses many characteristics of birds of flight, but is clearly distinguishable, and has become an important discovery to help shorten the missing gap in the evolution of flight. (Xing, pg2-4)
These characteristics of the Microraptor have proven to be extremely important scientifically. Out of the many characteristics that may bridge some of the gaps between dinosaurs not capable of flight and birds, one of the most crucial characteristics is its size. As mentioned earlier, the size is closer to that of animals with flight capability. Most previous discoveries were of a much larger size than the Microraptor. The next important aspect of this discovery is the type of feathers attached to the Microraptor: “Recent discoveries suggest...