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New technology helps piece together what winged dinosaur looked like

Researchers say they have reached an unprecedented level of understanding regarding what one particular four-winged dinosaur actually looked like.

Researchers from Linyi University in China and the University of Hong Kong arrived at a new, highly detailed picture of the dinosaur Anchiornis based on images of soft tissues revealed by laser-stimulated fluorescent light. The research was published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications. 

The work revealed that the ancient dinosaur Anchiornis had legs shaped like drumsticks, a slender tail, and feathers that may have helped make the dinosaur more aerodynamic. The creature also had propatagia, or membranes, that “could produce a relatively straight arm, a posture broadly found in many living gliding birds,” the study says.

The technique of laser-simulated flourescence helped scientists dig deeper by revealing morphological details that are invisible under white or ultraviolet light. 

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Plantar footpads of an Anchiornis dinosaur.  Wang, Pittman, et al; Nature Communications

Anchiornis is classified as a basal paravian theropod — dinosaurs that developed during the Jurassic period, had wings and walked on two hind legs.

The study revealed minute but important structural similarities between basal paravians and the birds that populate the Earth today, researchers said. The new study could provide paleontologists with exciting insights on how flight first emerged and evolved on Earth. 

Dr. Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, who was not connected with the research, told BBC News the study is significant for showing just how bird-like these ancient creatures were.

“This study uses high-powered lasers to generate the single best look at the wings and body outline of a dinosaur ever,” he said. “The laser images show that this non-bird dinosaur had wings that were remarkably similar to those of living birds, down to the soft tissues.”

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