While we’ve long thought of dinosaurs as scaly reptile-like creatures, increasing amounts of evidence now point to the idea that dinosaurs were bird-like in their days of reigning supreme on Earth.
A study recently published in the journal Nature Communications discusses the results of a detailed analysis of several Anchoirnis fossil remains. This ancient creature, which sported four total wings, a thin tail, and many feathers, is estimated to have existed sometime during the late Jurassic era.
Image Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi
Using high-powered laser scanning techniques, known as Laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF), scientists unraveled more details about the creature than expected.
This technique was not only harmless to the delicate fossil speciments, but it also enabled scientists to get a better view of the soft interconnecting tissues in between bones in ways that typical white or ultraviolet light scans cannot reveal, and the results paint a picture of bird-like body parts that continue to support the modern hypothesis. Admittedly, soft tissue doesn’t always withstand the test of time, so the researchers got lucky with this fossil specimen.
Among the many things they discovered during the analysis is evidence for drumstick-style legs and a slender tail, as well as a footpad that resembles those from a lot of today’s modern birds. These, combined with a few other traits allowed scientists to come up with the illustration above, which most likely depicts the creature more accurately than any illustrations to date.
Anchoirnis may have used its four wings for gliding; many of the body’s formations that were found in this study would have been well-adapted for short-term flying or gliding.
The study is important not only because it sheds light on a dinosaur species that existed millions of years ago, but also because it shows that LSF technology works well for this kind of fossil research.
The authors go on to explain that there are a bevy of dinosaur fossils out there that could do with additional examinations to learn more about their bodily structure and that LSF could help answer some of the ongoing questions for various dinosaur species.
“In our opinion, it (LSF) should be in the top tray of any paleontologist’s toolbox, because it can so easily expand the anatomical information available from a fossil without damaging it,” said the University of Hong Kong's Michael Pitmann, a co-author of the study.
Importantly, the theory that many dinosaurs were more similar to today's modern birds than originally thought seems to be very consistent throughout all of modern research. Some studies have even went as far as to suggest that they even sounded just like today's larger birds as well.
Source: National Geographic