Ambopteryx longibrachium, a dinosaur with bat-like wings that evolved 163 million years ago in China, is a fascinating animal belonging to the Scansoriopterygidae group. This bird-like dinosaur had wings similar to bats but a body covered with feathers. The Ambopteryx fossil discovery in China has made a huge contribution to science, as it is one of the most well-preserved specimens that consisted of not only skeletal parts but also soft tissue, like the membranes of the wings.
The Ambopteryx dinosaurs had a small and light body with an elongated third finger. This feature was also found in the dinosaur Yi, alluding to the fact that both these dinosaurs belong to the same group and evolved in a similar manner. While Ampbopteryx did resemble birds in some aspects, overall, it had a unique appearance, as estimated from its fossil remains. Just like birds, the Ambopteryx fossil was found to have gizzard stones in its stomach. The flight in Ambopteryx is better described as gliding, according to scientists. Further discovery of more fossil specimens of members of this group will make the evolutionary science of these dinosaurs clearer.
Ambopteryx is pronounced as 'Am-bop-the-riks'.
Ambopteryx was a Theropod dinosaur belonging to the Scansoriopterygidae family. This species is closely related to Yi, one of the most well-known Scansoriopterygids, due to its membrane-like wings and role in the evolutionary history of flying dinosaurs.
The Ambopteryx fossils that were discovered indicated that these dinosaurs were present on Earth 163 million years ago, corresponding to the Oxfordian stage of the Late Jurassic era.
Ambopteryx probably went extinct during the Late Jurassic era itself. One of the reasons could be its inability to compete with other tree-dwelling dinosaurs.
Fossils of Ambopteryx longibrachium have been recovered from Liaoning in China, from the Haifanggou Formation.
The Ambopteryx habitat certainly consisted of trees where they could glide from one branch to another. The climate during this time was warm and wet.
Ambopteryx might have been solitary, as no preserved aggregated fossils belonging to this species have been located yet.
In general, smaller dinosaurs had a shorter lifespan in the range of 3-8 years. Perhaps, the Ambopteryx, with its membranous wings and feathers, had a similar life expectancy.
Like most dinosaurs, the reproductive behavior in Ambopteryx has not been established. However, it is certain that they were oviparous in nature, and hence, reproduced by laying eggs. In general, some theropods likely displayed courting behavior and laid their eggs in nests post-fertilization, which was most likely internal.
Ambopteryx longibrachium had a unique appearance, made up of bat-like wings and a feathered body, which is fascinating to scientists.
The skull fossil points at this dinosaur having a short and blunt head, similar to other members of its family. Being a small dinosaur, the length of an Ambopteryx was not much when measured from its snout to the tip of its pygostyle, which is a set of fused vertebrae.
Another feature of Ambopteryx which puts it at par with other Scansoriopterygids is an elongated third finger. Like Yi, its close relative, Ambopteryx had rod-like bones emerging from its ulna. These bones, known as styliform elements, were curved in nature. It has been postulated that these styliform elements may have been responsible for supporting the wing membrane of this dinosaur species, which extended from the third finger to its abdomen. In fact, the elongated third finger may have also been the point of attachment for the wing-like membrane. These membranous wings were not feathered but provided this Scansoriopterygid with some edge when it came to flying or gliding.
The forelimbs of Ambopteryx longibrachium were longer than its hindlimbs, so these bat-winged dinosaurs were probably used to walking on their hind limbs. Their tail was short and may have been feathered, as well.
Due to the absence of a complete fossil skeleton of this bat-winged dinosaur, it is quite difficult to estimate the exact number of bones it had. Nevertheless, the holotype fossil features bones from the head, shoulder, and neck of the dinosaur.
The patterns of communication used by Ambopteryx longibrachium continue to be a mystery. However, scientists have given some insight into how Theropod dinosaurs may have communicated, in general. Theropod dinosaurs were probably unable to make complex sounds and stuck to close-mouthed vocalizations instead. Additionally, in the case of Ambopteryx, their feathers may have been part of their visual display.
The Ambopteryx size was small, with a length of 1 ft (33 cm). However, the specimen which was discovered and later assigned to be the holotype may have been a sub-adult. In that case, an adult Ambopteryx longibrachium was probably a bit longer, but not by much. Ambopteryx height is yet to be ascertained. Scientists compare these dinosaurs with membranous wings with the starling bird of present times. In comparison to a Velociraptor, which had a length of nearly 6 ft (1.8 m), the Ambopteryx is six times smaller.
The speed of the bat-winged Ambopteryx longibrachium has not yet been established. However, the presence of wings made up of membranes has led scientists to believe that these dinosaurs were used to gliding clumsily from tree to tree instead of flying. So, the nature of their 'flight' could be compared to the sugar gliders and flying squirrels of today's times instead of avian birds.
Being a small dinosaur species, the weight of this Scansoriopterygid was no more than 0.7 oz (306 g).
The male and female members of Ambopteryx longibrachium are simply referred to as male Ambopteryx and female Ambopteryx, respectively.
A baby Ambopteryx is known as a hatchling.
This Theropod dinosaur was an omnivorous animal. This has been deduced from the discovery of perfectly preserved stomach contents of this Scansoriopterygid species. The collection of bones from their stomachs proves they preyed on other smaller animals. Additionally, they also had gizzard stones in their stomach, which is found in the plant-eating birds of current times as well. So, the Ambopteryx diet was most certainly omnivorous.
Given the size of this feathered Scansoriopterygid dinosaur, they may not have been very aggressive. However, they definitely did show some extent of aggressiveness, as they preyed on other animals.
Among dinosaurs, the science of evolution has been furthered by the presence of bat-like wings in the Ambopteryx, which is why it is so well known. This feature has let scientists catch a glimpse of how within the dinosaur species, different forms of evolution took place several million years ago before the winged dinosaurs could establish themselves. In fact, scientists believe flight in dinosaurs evolved four times. The presence of feathers and wings made up of membranes in both Yi and Ambopteryx are examples of how one form of evolution, which ultimately led to a dead-end, came about.
Even though both these Scansoriopterygids were gliding dinosaurs, their development of wings was an important step in the evolutionary history of winged dinosaurs and modern-day birds. This is why Archaeopteryx, considered to be an intermediate species between non-avian dinosaurs and birds, is a relative of Ambopteryx. This whole phenomenon goes on to show how evolution is a form of trial and error, and while some evolutionary traits may lead to a dead-end, every form of evolution is necessary for the various species on Earth to further themselves.
The name 'Ambopteryx' has been formed by combining the words 'ambo' and 'pteryx', which are Latin and Greek, respectively. These words translate to 'both' and 'wing' and have been used to refer to the membrane-like wings of these dinosaurs, which are similar to the bats of today. It also alludes to the bird-like physical structure of this Scansoriopterygid.
The dinosaur Yi, closely related to Ambopteryx and also belonging to China, has the shortest name in the dinosaur world. Its full scientific name is Yi qi. 'Yi' stands for 'wing', while 'qi' stands for 'strange', in Mandarin. The name was a way of acknowledging the membranous wings of this dinosaur and was given by Wang Yan, Xu Xing, Jingmai O'Connor, and a few others in 2015.
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Main image by Audrey.m.horn.
Second image by Kumiko.