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The Changyuraptor yangi: A 125-million-years-old flying dinosaur with four wings

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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – It was built sort of like a biplane but probably did not fly as well, if at all.

Scientists on Tuesday described a fossil of a strange dinosaur that lived in China 125 million years ago which was covered in feathers, looked like it had two sets of wings and may have been able to glide.

The meat-eating creature, called Changyuraptor yangi, had exceptionally long tail feathers, the longest feathers of any dinosaur, at one foot in length (30 cm). It had feather-covered forelimbs akin to wings as well as legs covered in feathers in a way that gave the appearance of a second set of wings.

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Changyuraptor is not considered a bird but rather a very bird-like dinosaur. It illustrates that it is not always easy to tell what is and is not a bird. It measured a bit more than 4 feet long (1.3 meters) and weighed roughly 9 pounds (4 kg).

If a person saw Changyuraptor, the reaction likely would be: “Hey! That is a weird-looking bird,” according to paleontologist Alan Turner of Stony Brook University in New York, one of the researchers.

“So, think a mid-sized turkey with a very long tail,” Turner added.

Scientists have identified a handful of these ‘four-winged’ dinosaurs, known as microraptorines. Changyuraptor is the largest.

Birds arose from small, feathered dinosaurs. Crow-sized Archaeopteryx, which lived about 150 million years ago, is considered the earliest known bird. But many dinosaurs before and after that had feathers and other bird-like characteristics.

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“Changyuraptor is very, very similar to Archaeopteryx and other primitive birds. So are many other dinosaurs like Anchiornis and Pedopenna. But they have some traits that birds lack, and lack some traits that birds have,” Turner added.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County paleontologist Luis Chiappe, who led the study, said Changyuraptor lived in a forested environment in a temperate climate, hunting birds, mammals, small reptiles and fish.

“Animals like Changyuraptor were probably not engaged in powered flight like modern birds. However, Changyuraptor and dinosaurs like it could flap their wings and certainly had large feathered surfaces on both their forelimbs and hind limbs,” Turner said.

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“So this does raise the possibility they could glide or ‘fly’ in a primitive sort of way. The way I like to think of it is: if you pushed them out of a tree, they’d fall pretty slowly,” Turner added.

If Changyuraptor were able to become airborne, its long tail feathers may have helped reduce descent speed and enabled safe landings. “This helps explain how animals like Changyuraptor could engage in some form of aerial locomotion – flight, gliding, and/or controlled descents – despite their size,” Turner added.

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In birds today, feathers can serve multiple functions beyond flight, including display, species recognition and mating rituals. Turner said Changyuraptor’s feathers also may have served multiple purposes.

China has become a treasure trove for feathered dinosaur fossils. Changyuraptor was unearthed in Liaoning Province in northeastern China.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by James Dalgleish)


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As much of US marks a muted Independence Day, Trump encourages big parties

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While public health officials are urging Americans to avoid large crowds and hold more muted July 4 celebrations amid a spike of coronavirus cases, President Donald Trump is going big for what he is promising will be a “special evening” in the nation's capital.

Trump is set hold his “Salute for America” celebration Saturday with a speech from the White House South Lawn that he says will celebrate American heritage, a military flyover over Washington, and an enormous fireworks display that is expected to draw thousands to the National Mall.

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Despite its claim to host the world's largest concentration of hospitals and research labs, the city of Houston is dangerously close to being overwhelmed by the explosion of coronavirus cases sweeping across Texas.

Since the Memorial Day weekend in late May and major anti-racism protests in June, "it is an unbelievable trajectory," as if the flood gates had opened, said Faisal Masud, director of critical care at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Masud has been on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 since it reached Houston.

"This has been relentless for us," he told AFP. "We didn't get a break."

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Paris’s Louvre reopens on Monday after lockdown losses of ‘over €40 million’

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The Louvre in Paris, the world's most visited museum and home to the Mona Lisa, reopens on Monday but with coronavirus restrictions in place and parts of the complex closed to visitors.

The Louvre has been closed since March 13 and this has already led "to losses of over 40 million euros," its director Jean-Luc Martinez said.

Among more than 10 million visitors in 2018, almost three-quarters were tourists.

"We have lost 80 percent of our public. Seventy-five percent of our visitors were foreigners," Martinez said.

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