China discovers bird-related dragon dinosaur

World Today

Zhao Chuang’s painting of Zhenyuanlong shows how strange this feathered beast may have looked

A limestone of a dragon dinosaur was found in China’s Liaoning province. Scientists believed the dinosaur was an ancestor of the velociraptor, one that they say was on the border of becoming a bird.

Scientists are able to study this fossil today thanks to an ancient volcanic eruption in northeast China, when the 6 foot (2 meter) long creature was ensconced in limestone, almost without damage. The 125-million year-old fossil suggests many other dinosaurs, including velociraptors, would have looked like “big, fluffy killer birds,” but it is unlikely that it could fly, according to Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh.

The dinosaur has been named Zhenyuanlong (pronounced Jin-yuen-long), meaning “Zhenyuan’s dragon” – in honour of the man, Zhenyuan, who procured the fossil for the museum in Jinzhou, allowing it to be studied.

Researchers Brusatte and Lv Junchang from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences published an article about the new discovery in the journal Scientific Reports.

Zhenyuanlong belongs to the dromaeosaurus family, which is believed to be closely related to birds. The dinosaur was the second kind of dromaeosaurus found with short front legs, and the first kind with feathers on its legs and tail. In the dromaeosaurus family, the Tianyudao dinosaur is similar in size as Zhenyuanlong, but no feathers were found in those fossils.