It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a four-winged bird?
Xing Xu, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes that he has discovered the fossil of a four-winged bird in Liaoning, China.
Xu believes that it may have been common for birds to have four wings instead of two millions of years ago. Two of the wings acted much like modern bird wings while the other two helped the birds steer and glide. Xu said that this may be the simplest form of flight and noted that the Wright Brothers used four wings on their Kitty Hawk Plane.
The research team studied 11 fossils from different groups of birds dating back 150 million years. The birds had two normal wings as well as stiff feathers on their legs. Xu claims that this is actually a second set of wings that “either provided lift, or created drag, or enhanced maneuverability or a combination of all of these functions.”
According to Xu, ancient birds primarily lived in trees and that they didn’t spend a lot of time running on the ground. Xu explained saying that the four-winged birds lost their second set “primarily because of the evolution of two different locomotion systems in birds — arm wings for flight and legs for walking and running.”
Here’s an artists recreation of what one of these birds, a Sapeornis, may have looked like.
The research done by Xu and his team is not the first to suggest that four-winged birds existed. The research does suggest, however, that having four wings may have been a common trait among ancient birds and winged dinosaurs.
Here’s a PBS special from 2009 that examines four-winged bird fossils.
But not everyone agrees with Xu’s research. Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley, agrees that many dinosaurs and ancient birds may have had wings on their legs, but Padian is not quick to call that proof that these animals had four wings. Padian said that there’s no proof that the hind legs aided in flight.
Padian said: “No one thinks that these animals flapped their legs, so what is the argument about improving flight?”