First, paleontologists spread the word that modern birds are actually living dinosaurs. Then came the news from China that some dinosaurs and related reptiles long ago seemed to be marvelous four-winged creatures, seemingly on standby at some runway for takeoff in flight as early birds.
Now, Chinese scientists have made a detailed analysis of 11 four-winged fossil specimens that lived about 130 million years ago. They reported Thursday in the journal Science that the study provided the first “solid evidence” that some recently excavated primitive bird species had also adopted the four-wing body plan before they ditched the hind-limb feathers and continued alone with the presumably more efficient feathered forelimb wings.
This evolutionary transition in early birds, the Chinese paleontologists said, “may have played an important role in the evolution of flight.”
At the time, these “basal bird” species appeared to be replacing their hind-limb feathers with scales and developing more birdlike feet. The researchers suggested that the four-winged creatures were already getting ready to use their hind limbs for terrestrial locomotion, like the robin pursuing worms on a lawn or the disputatious crow strutting around an overturned trash can.