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Four-Winged Birds?

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on March 18th, 2013

Thought you knew what ancient birds looked like? Think again.

The ancestors of some modern bird species had four “wings” instead of two, according to a new study, and that may have played a major role in the evolution of early birds and flight.

In the study, a group of researchers in China analyzed the well-preserved fossil specimens of primitive birds from the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature. They found that 11 bird specimens had plumed legs as well as the usual pair of wings we’re used to seeing in modern-day birds. The fossils lived about 130 million years ago.

As The New York Times notes, feathered legs have previously been seen in fossils of flying dinosaurs like the Microraptor, a T-Rex relative.

It’s now generally accepted that the large leg feathers of the Microraptor were useful in flight, but a nagging question long remained unanswered: Did birds go through a “four-winged” stage, or were dinosaurs like the Microraptor merely an evolutionary side-branch?

The new study, which published in the journal Science on Friday, has provided the first “solid evidence” that at least some ancestors of modern birds not only had four wings for a time, but also very large feathers on the hind limbs — a feature that hints strongly at flight.

Read the entire article here.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.


4 Responses to “Four-Winged Birds?”

  1. Goodfoot responds:

    So what did the four-legged proto-bird say as he broke out of his shell?

    A: “LOOK MA! No hands!!!”

  2. alan borky responds:

    Craig my own suspicion’s long been feathers evolved as a sort of vermin farm for close to hand make-do rations when nothing better was available but looking at the model in the video you’ve put up I kept having the sense I’d seen a version of this image somewhere before and suddenly it hit me.

    Native American ceremonial dancers often wear feathers on both their forearms and their legs.

    Is it possible the originators of this custom actually once upon a time saw such fantastical four winged ‘birds’ and did they for obvious reasons view them as so out of the ordinary they decided they were supernatural?

    Just a thought.

  3. Redrose999 responds:

    Excellent for climbing trees and gliding down. It is starting to look even more like flight was developed from gliding down rather than ground up.

  4. mandors responds:

    I’ve seen pictures of the fossil in question. Merely having feathers on its legs does not mean it had or used four wings. I think the “scientist” is making a big jump based on a subjective interpretation. Chickens have feathers on their legs today, and they do not use them to fly.



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