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A 3-D reconstruction of Ambopteryx longibrachium. Image: Min Wang, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Scientists have found new evidence that bat-like dinosaurs once fluttered through the skies.

What's new: A tiny dinosaur with membranous, bat-like wings lived during the Upper Jurassic period, according to a study in Nature on Wednesday. A fossil of the species — named Ambopteryx longibrachium — was found in northeastern China's Liaoning Province and dated to around 163 million years ago, bolstering the conclusions of a 2015 study detailing a less well-preserved but similar fossil finding called Yi qi. The specimen in the new study, by Min Wang and colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is superbly preserved — researchers were even able to glean information from its stomach contents.

Details: The new species likely weighed only about 200 grams and could have fit in your hand, paleontologist and study author Jingmai O’Connor, told Science. “It would have been this tiny, bizarre-looking, buck-toothed thing like nothing alive today.”

  • It also had feathers, along with bat-like, membrane wings supported by a long, pointed wrist bone, a type of structure that has been found in non-dinosaur flying vertebrates such as bats and pterosaurs.
  • Scientists aren't yet sure exactly how this winged dinosaur flew.
  • Ambopteryx longibrachium likely points to changes in wing structure around the time that scansoriopterygids, a family of climbing and gliding dinosaurs, split with bird lineages.
  • In other words, it may represent an evolutionary dead-end that consisted of bat-like dinosaurs, and there may be other flying dinos that we don't yet know about.

The bottom line: The study, along with other research, puts forward the idea that membranous wings and elongated forelimbs in scansoriopterygids were likely short-lived evolutionary experiments with flight, since feathered wings and the birds we know of today came to predominate later.

Go deeper

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

8 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.