A new species of feathered dinosaur from China, which represents the earliest reported troodontid (bird-like maniraptoran dinosaur) with asymmetric feathers, is described in a study published in Nature Communications this week. Asymmetric feathers were a major innovation associated with the evolution of flight.
Xing Xu, Michael Pittman and colleagues identify the new species, Jianianhualong tengi, from a nearly complete skeleton with preserved feathers. The fossil dates from the Early Cretaceous (approximately 100-145 million years ago) and was found in north-eastern China.
It is not clear whether Jianianhualong tengi was capable of flight, and asymmetric feathers are found in both flying and non-flying modern species. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that enhanced aerodynamic properties were already present in the early relatives of birds, and provide insight into the timing of the evolution of asymmetric feathers.