The failed experiment of the first winged dinosaurs

Poorly equipped for flight and therefore not good at staying in the air, the first dinosaurs with wings did not survive.

The first dinosaurs to take off did not go very far. At least in terms of evolution. Their wings were made of a skin membrane similar to that of bats, but they were very poor flighters and were supplanted by birds. In any case, this is what a study published on October 22 in the journal iScience suggests.

An international team looked at the fossils of two strange little specimens, Yi qi and Ambopteryx longibrachium, to analyze their ability to soar through the air and travel long distances. The conclusion is clear: these animals were not good at flying. "They were ill-equipped for gliding, hence their extinction," Alexander Dececchi of Mount Marty University (US), lead author of the study, told New Scientist.

The birds that inhabit our skies today evolved from dinosaurs, and it was believed that only one evolutionary branch had acquired the ability to fly. But the discovery in China, in 2015 and again in 2019, of fossils of these new species, Yi qi and Ambopteryx longibrachium, which lived 160 million years ago, has reshuffled the cards. At the time, there were no birds and the sky was dominated by a distinct group of flying reptiles: relatively large pterosaurs. The scientific weekly reports:

    "With the advent of birds a few million years later, membrane-winged dinosaurs were doomed in terms of evolution."

Yi qi and Ambopteryx “really didn't stand a chance,” the researcher concludes: they couldn't compete with the birds, which are much better in the air, nor with the pterosaurs, which are much larger than them. The bats, on the other hand, did well, but that was much later, about fifty million years ago. “This may be because bats were nocturnal and therefore did not compete directly with birds,” New Scientist points out. If Yi qi and Ambopteryx had had more intense nighttime activity, maybe they would have been luckier?

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