These Winged Dinosaurs Hurtled Through the Trees like Haywire Hang Gliders

During a blip in time in the late Jurassic, a dinosaur that weighed no more than a chinchilla flung itself from tree to tree, spread its wings and tried to soar. In theory, it sounds beautiful — an early attempt at flight before birds figured out the blueprint.

In practice, it was chaotic.

The dinosaur, Yi qi, only barely managed to glide, stretching out and shimmying its skin-flap, downy-feathered wings in a valiant attempt at flying. “It was rocketing from tree to tree, desperately trying not to slam into something,” said Alex Dececchi, a paleontologist at Mount Marty University in South Dakota. “It wouldn’t be something pleasant.”

Unsurprisingly, Yi qi is not an ancestor of modern birds. It went extinct after just a few million years, presumably doomed by its sheer lack of competency in the air. In a study published Thursday in the journal iScience, Dr. Dececchi and other researchers analyzed how Yi qi and the dinosaur Ambopteryx could have flown. Both animals were scansoriopterygids, a little-known group of small dinosaurs. The researchers did not expect the two to be great fliers, but their results painted a picture of bumbling creatures that weren’t truly at home on the ground, among the trees or in the sky.

Found by a farmer in northeastern China, Yi qi was first described in 2015 by paleontologists Xing Xu, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Xiaoting Zheng, of Linyi University. When Dr. Dececchi first learned about the dinosaur’s bizarre anatomy, he was taken aback. “I said words that cannot be put into print,” he said.

In addition to the batlike wings, which had never before been observed in a dinosaur, Yi qi had an extraordinary long bone jutting out from its wrist. “Like Edward Scissorhands,” said Michael Pittman, a paleontologist at the University of Hong Kong and an author on the paper.

In 2018, Dr. Dececchi presented Yi qi in one of his classes, as a way of teaching the scientific method: “Here’s a weird creature. How do you think it would fly?” The more he thought about the question, the more he wanted to answer it.

When Dr. Dececchi presented a preliminary paper on Yi qi at a conference in 2018, he saw a similar paper by Arindam Roy, a graduate student in Dr. Pittman’s lab. The scientists decided to collaborate, with Dr. Pittman reconstructing the dinosaur’s wing and Dr. Dececchi modeling its flight. When Ambopteryx was described in 2018, the scientists incorporated the dinosaur into the study.

Dr. Pittman’s lab scanned the fossil using a technique called laser-stimulated fluorescence to detect soft tissues that might have gone unnoticed when the Yi qi was first described. The laser technique revealed new soft tissues around the neck and face and provided close-up images of the membrane, which allowed Dr. Pittman to revise the model for what Yi qi’s wing might have looked like.

With wing models in hand. Dr. Dececchi ran the dinosaurs through a panoply of mathematical models to test its flight

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North Carolina vs. Florida State score: Seminoles hang on in second half to stun No. 5 Tar Heels

Yet another top-10 team has lost as the 2020 season moves forward. No. 5 North Carolina came into Saturday’s game against Florida State as two-touchdown favorites but exit on the wrong end of a 31-28 loss, taking the Tar Heels off the list of unbeaten teams this season. 

From the start, it was clear that North Carolina would not be waltzing over the Seminoles. Quarterback Jordan Travis hit a quick 23-yard touchdown run — his first of two on the night. By the second quarter, Florida State was up 24-0 thanks in part to spectacular play from the defense. The Seminoles played particularly well in the trenches, intercepting quarterback Sam Howell and returning it for a touchdown. The Noles also had a key fourth-down stop and stymied a two-point conversion attempt. In all, this was probably the best Florida State’s defense has played this year. 

Of course, nothing about a Florida State lead is safe, and North Carolina is a great fourth-quarter team. Missed field goals and penalties marked most of the Seminoles’ second half as the Tar Heels began to chip away at the lead. With 2:30 left in the game, North Carolina got the ball back with one final chance to either tie or take the lead. Howell led the offense down the field, but three straight drops stopped North Carolina from pulling off the comeback. 

This is the first real signature win for coach Mike Norvell in his first season in Tallahassee. While the start of the year hasn’t been what Florida State fans have wanted, there were encouraging signs against the Tar Heels. The offensive line played better as the Noles rushed for 241 yards. That’s been a real area of concern for a long time with this program. 

For North Carolina, a good second half wasn’t able to overcome a poor first half. Coach Mack Brown, previously 0-for-9 against the Seminoles, remains winless against them. 

CBS Sports was with you the entire way updating this story with the latest from North Carolina-Florida State. Check out all the updates below. 


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