Modified May 3, 2015 with the new identification of the curved ‘styliform element’, as the ulna, not the radius.
Apparently all the fuss and PR over the new batwing dino/bird Yi qi is based on an error of bone identification. Both antebrachia on the specimen were splintered during crushing. The splinters were misidentified as slender radii. The purported ‘styliform elements’ (Xu et al. 2015) that gave Yi qi such an odd appearance are actually a displaced right radius and left ulna. The pictures below tell the story (Figs. 1-3).
The long scapula identified by Xu et al.
appears instead to be a pair of opposing elongate coracoids. Long coracoids make Yi qi a flapper, not a glider, weak though it may have been.
Only a few elements
appear on the counter plate (Fig. 2) that are not present on the plate. Putting them together in Photoshop and painting the bones using the methodology of DGS helped sort out the data (Fig. 3).
the Xu et al. team struggled for several months to come to grips with this large, never-before-seen bone, the so-called ‘styliform element’. Evidently the left ulna splinters looked enough like a radius that they discounted the possibility that the odd bone was indeed the radius, likewise splintered. Note the odd orientation of the left manus (Fig. 3) in which the lateral digits are medial. The observed membrane may have been the propatagium. Or it could have simply trailed the wing like other bird membranes do. Remember, birds have no scales, as we learned earlier. Birds have naked skin with some feathers later transforming to scales on their legs with few exceptions (like owls).
Reconstructions (Fig 4) are also part of the DGS process, making sure that all bones fit together and also match those of closely related taxa (Fig. 5). Odd autapomorphies, like a styliform element, are immediately suspect, but odd autapomorphies do occasionally occur.,, apparently not this time.
DGS has gotten a bad rap.
This is just another example where, without seeing the fossil, a contribution to identification and understanding can be made. Maybe now would be a good time to take down some of those anti-DGS websites and blogposts out there.
Padian K. 2015. Paleontology: Dinosaur up in the air. Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14392
Xu X, Zheng X-T, Sullivan C, Wang X-L, Xing l, Wang Y, Zhang X-M, O’Connor JK, Zhang F-C and Pan Y-H 2015. A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran theropod with preserved evidence of membranous wings.Nature (advance online publication)