Classification: Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae.
Genus: Microraptor (“Small Thief”)
Species: M. zhaoianus, M. gui, M. hanqingi
Scientists originally thought that Microraptor used its four wings to glide between trees, with the wings serving almost like a parachute. However, other paleontologists believe that Microraptor was capable of fully powered flight, able to take off under its own power and fly through the air.
Microraptor was a meat eater, though scientists have debated whether it was an active hunter or mainly a scavenger. It is known to have eaten mammals, lizards, fish, and insects.
Microraptor was a small dinosaur, a meat-eater related to Deinonychus, Velociraptor, Utahraptor and other dromaeosaurids. Like those dinosaurs, it had an enlarged toe claw on each foot. However, due to its small size, its toe claws were not as formidable as those of its cousins.
Its most distinguishing feature were the feathered wings on both its front and rear legs. It also had a long tail with two longer, trailing feathers extending past the end. Its feathers were dark, and may have been iridescent, like a modern starling.
It was one of the smallest non-bird dinosaurs to ever live, measuring only about two and a half feet in length.
The earliest fossils of Microraptor, found in 1999, were combined with fossils of other dinosaurs, with the intent to sell them. Only the tail was ultimately found to belong to Microraptor.
Later specimens from the 2000s were much more complete, and featured preserved impressions of feathers, which showcased Microraptor’s unique four-wing body structure.
It was not the earliest dinosaur discovered with preserved feathers: Archaeopteryx was discovered in 1861, and lived during the Jurassic Period, long before Microraptor.