Dinos’ long tail feathers may have stopped crash landings

The four-winged dinosaur Changyuraptor yangi (illustrated here next to a person's silhouette for scale) had long tail feathers that may have helped its landings, scientists suggest.

 Stephanie Abramowicz, Dinosaur Institute, NHM

Shaking its tail feathers, or at least having them, may have kept a new species of winged dinosaur from crash landings. The creature, called Changyuraptor yangi, had tail feathers nearly 30 centimeters long, roughly 30 percent of the length of its skeleton, researchers report July 15 in Nature Communications.

Fossils of C. yangi, a relative of the the Velociraptor and other raptors, show it also had feathered legs, giving it a four-winged look. The creature appears to have been the largest therapod, or bipedal beast, with feathered legs and had the longest known feathers of any non-avian dinosaur. The long tail feathers probably helped C. yangi control the pitch of its body and slow its speed as it attempted to land, the scientists say.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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