Meet Zhenyuanlong suni. This feathered dinosaur lived 125 million years ago in what is now China. He had short arms and dramatic plumage, from the tiny crown on his head, to the quill-like feathers that extended from his wings and tail. He was also very large.
At two meters—around six and a half feet tall—the carnivore was the largest-known winged dinosaur to roam the Earth during the Cretaceous Period. Scientists discovered the species, a cousin of the velociraptor, when they uncovered a new, near-complete skeleton found in the sedimentary rock that formed in ancient lake beds in China’s Liaoning Province. Details of the discovery are published in a recent issue of Scientific Reports.
"It’s the biggest dinosaur that has ever been found with wings," Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at Edinburgh University who co-authored the study, told The Guardian. "In general it is very bird-like, but it’s big, and has these very short arms with full-blown wings."
Given Zhenyuanlong suni's size, it's unlikely that those wings were used for flight. Brusatte speculated that they could have been used for colorful sexual displays or to protect a nest of eggs. Scientists are hopeful that the discovery will help them uncover why wings first evolved if not for flight, and allow them to better fact-check our understanding of winged dinosaurs.
"This new dinosaur is one of the closest cousins of velociraptor, but it looks just like a bird," Brusatte told the Daily Mail. "The movies have it wrong—this is what velociraptor would have looked like too."