March 1, 2017
by John Hopton
Scientists have revealed details of a chicken-like dinosaur that existed around the same time birds first appeared on Earth.
Chinese and American researchers believe the Jurassic creature named Anchiornis, a feathered dinosaur from about 160 million years ago, could hold important information on the missing link between land-bound and flying creatures.
Fossilized Anchiornis bones were studied using lasers, and traces of soft tissue were observed.
"We shone violet lasers at Anchiornis specimens in a dark room to cause them to glow in the dark, revealing amazing details," said Michael Pittman of the University of Hong Kong, who co-authored the study in Nature Communications. "This revealed the first quantitative high-detail outline of a feathered dinosaur."
The process involved a new technique called laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF).
A flap at the front of the dinosaur's elbow was revealed by the lasers, a feature which in present day birds is called the propatagium, a feathered, boneless leading edge of a wing. It is important for flight.
"The fact that we find this really neat wing in an older bird-like animal is really exciting," said Pittman.
Equally interesting is the fact that Anchiornis appeared to have four wings rather than two.