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10 Feathered Facts About Microraptor

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Nowadays, feathered dinos are all the rage. Since 1999, over 20 new species have been discovered, ranging from sparrow-sized tree-climbers to thirty-foot tyrannosaurs. Among these bird-like beasts, few can match the intrigue of Microraptor, a pint-sized predator from prehistoric China. 

1. It Had Four Wings.

Microraptor had long, powerful feathers anchored onto its arms, but the critter’s hind limbs are where things really start to get unusual. Amazingly, both legs boast wings of their own as well. What did it do with this second pair? Stay tuned for a few suggestions. 

2. By the Way, Microraptor Wasn’t the Only 4-Winged “Raptor.”

Dromaeosaurids (informally called “raptors,” thanks to Jurassic Park) were a group of advanced carnivorous dinosaurs best known for their infamous sickle-shaped toe claws. Some primitive species, like the recently-unearthed Changyuraptor, shared Microraptor’s weird attributes. 

3. Microraptor Occasionally Gobbled Up Fish.

Bon appétit! Fossilized stomach contents reveal that the wee beastie ate some gilled main courses from time to time. As we’ll see, Microraptor’s menu featured poultry too…  

4. Microraptor Shared its Skies with Flying Reptiles and Early Birds.

Essentially modern-looking birds had already evolved by the time Microraptor showed up 120 million years ago, and avian bones have even been found inside one specimen’s gut. Also flapping overhead were various pterosaurs—magnificent winged reptiles which took flight throughout the age of dinosaurs. 

5. It Had Some Contentious Hips.

Did Microraptor, like most dinos, hold its rear legs directly underneath its body? Or did they splay out to its sides crocodile-style while airborne? Trivial as these questions might sound, they have huge implications for understanding how this dinosaur got from place to place.

Scientists disagree about which interpretation is correct, but its hips and upper legs doubtlessly hold the key. Unfortunately, Microraptor’s delicate bones complicate the situation. These usually get crushed during fossilization, distorting their shape significantly.

6. Microraptor Might Have Resembled a Feathery Biplane.

According to one hypothesis, Microraptor stabilized itself by holding its leg-wings beneath and parallel to those on its forelimbs, like a WWI fighter plane. The Red Baron would have approved.

7. It Had a Glossy Coat.

Color-producing organelles called “melanosomes” have been found inside fossilized Microraptor feathers. Close examination of their arrangement reveals that the dinosaur’s plumage was, in life, quite dark and somewhat iridescent. 

8. Microraptor is Delightfully Well-Represented.

Most dinos are known only from a handful of skeletons or partial remains, but several hundred known Microraptor specimens have emerged over the past two decades, allowing paleontologists to extensively compare and contrast individual animals.

9. It’s Been Subjected to Wind Tunnel Experiments.

In 2013, a group based at the University of Southampton constructed a poseable, life-like Microraptor model which was made to assume several positions while hovering inside a wind tunnel. According to team member Darren Naish, their faux dinosaur’s “Aerodynamic performance was best when the limbs were in the straight-down posture… [while the] tail operated as a lift-generating structure.”

Naish and company also argue that although excessive drag would have prevented Microraptor from flying efficiently, it could glide reasonably well.

10. One Scientist Predicted the Discovery of a Microraptor-Like Animal 85 Years in Advance.

In 1915, naturalist William Beebe hypothesized that, at some point during the evolution of avians, four-winged animals were produced. Though Microraptor’s exact placement within the dinosaur-bird transition remains hotly debated, its existence lends credence to Beebe’s prescient hunch.

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New LEGO Set Recreates Jurassic Park's Iconic Velociraptor Chase Scenes
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LEGO

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, is skulking into theaters on June 22. That makes now the perfect time to revisit the original film in LEGO form.

This LEGO set, spotted by Nerdist, depicts some of the most suspenseful scenes from the 1993 movie. There's the main computer room where Ariana Richards's Lex shows off her hacker skills while Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) struggle to keep a hungry dinosaur from barging in. Just like in the film, the door features a deadbolt lock that's velociraptor-proof (though, unfortunately for the characters, the detachable window is not). Other Easter eggs hidden in this part include a map of Isla Nublar and a screener saver of LEGO Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight).

In the neighboring room, you'll find the cold storage unit where the dinosaur embryos are kept, along with the fake shaving cream can Nedry uses to steal them. The final section is the kitchen, where Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex are stalked by the velociraptor. There's less room for them to hide in the LEGO version compared to the movie set, but there is at least one functioning cabinet for Lex to tuck herself into. Closer inspection reveals even more details from the film, like the lime-green Jello Lex is eating when the raptors first arrive and the step ladder the gang uses to escape into the air ducts during the final chase.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

The Jurassic Park Velociraptor Chase set is currently available from the LEGO shop for $40.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of LEGO.

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CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
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Why Are There No More Dinosaurs?
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Actually, there are still dinosaurs: Birds! But let’s talk about that a little later. Scientists have found clues in rocks and fossils that tell us that by 65 million years ago, the climate (CLY-met), or usual weather, of the Earth had changed a lot, becoming cooler and drier. That was hard on the heat-loving dinosaurs. But that’s not why almost all of the dinosaurs became extinct, or disappeared forever. Scientists think a terrible event occurred that killed them off.

In 1991, scientists discovered a huge 110-mile-long crater, or hole, in the Gulf of Mexico. They think this crater was made by a giant, fiery, 6-mile-wide asteroid (AST-er-oyd) from space that smashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact was more powerful than any bomb we have ever known. Scientists believe this event killed most plant and animal life—including the dinosaurs. The asteroid probably caused shockwaves, earthquakes, fireballs, wildfires, and tidal, or really big, waves. It also sent huge amounts of dust and gas into the atmosphere, which is like a big blanket of air that surrounds the Earth. That was really bad for the planet.

The dust blocked sunlight, making the planet very cold and dark. Then, over time, the gases trapped heat, causing the Earth to get even hotter than it was before the asteroid hit. This change was deadly for most dinosaurs, and they became extinct. But birds survived. Many millions of years earlier, they had evolved (ee-VOL-ved), or changed slowly over time, from one group of dinosaurs. And when the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals diversified (die-VERSE-uh-fide), or changed, into many different kinds of animals—including us, many millions of years later. So the next time you see a bird swoop by, wave hello to the little flying dinosaur!    


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