I lost interest in actual dinosaurs right around the time they told me the Brontosaurus was actually an Apatosaurus. Dinosaurs are apparently like Pluto, and no one really knows how to categorize some of them.
Which brings us to Yi qi, which is Mandarin for “strange wing.” Yi qi is the size of a pigeon, and there’s only one known fossil of it. It was discovered nine years ago by a farmer in China, and studies began on it in 2013. What scientists discovered is that Yi qi doesn’t quite fit in with either category of flying prehistoric animals: Dinosaurs, which flew with feathery wings, and Pterosaurs, which flew with leathery wings.
Yi appears to have had both.
A team of paleontologists at Linyi University initially thought that Yi belonged to a group of feathery dinosaurs that relied on climbing to transport themselves (because the feathers were no good for actual flight). They soon realized that this new dinosaur also has a long bone protruding from its wrist, that they theorize was used to glide around like a flying squirrel. Yi would’ve climbed up trees with the adept feathered fingers of a scansoriopterygidae and then jumped, with the wrist bone extending out and deploying a membrane wing as it coasted. Bats have a similar piece of cartilage on their feet; pterosaurs on their arms.
“This is refreshingly weird,” says Daniel Ksepka from the Bruce Museum, who was not involved in the study. “Paleontologists will be thinking about Yi qi for a long time, and we can surely expect some interesting research into the structure and function of the wing.”
For now, they’re trying to work out exactly how it held its wrist rods, so they can reconstruct the extended wing. Perhaps the batosaur actually flapped its wings to fly, too.
Yi lived in the late Jurassic period, where there were plenty of different bird-like dinosaurs in various shapes and sizes. But Yi qi’s discovery shows a convergent evolution from dinosaur to pterosaur. It’s the first example of a dinosaur with bat-like wings, and it’s hopefully not the last evidence found of dinosaurs evolving their flying style to survive.