A Giant Winged Platypus?

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Announcements of new fossil discoveries are always exciting, and remains found from a site in eastern Shandong Province in China are no exception. Among the recovered fossils is part of the six-feet-wide skull of a horned dinosaur like Styracosaurus as well as bones of other dinosaur types seen from the Cretaceous of Asia and North America.

The problem with international discoveries, however, is that reporting agencies are not always adept at translating what scientists have to say. A report of the finds released by the news service AFP, and widely reproduced at sites like Yahoo!, said:

Included in the find was the largest "platypus"—or "duck-billed dinosaur" in Chinese—ever discovered measuring nine metres high with a wingspan wider than 16 metres, the report said.

As amusing as the image of a platypus with a 52 foot wingspan is, something has definitely been lost in translation here. A platypus is an egg-laying mammal (a monotreme), and “duck-billed dinosaurs” were hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus. Hadrosaurus did not have wings, but pterosaurs (which were not dinosaurs) did. Even so, the largest estimated wingspan for a pterosaur belongs to Quetzalcoatlus at a maximum of about 33 feet. If there was a creature with a 52-foot wingspan, it certainly is a significant find, but I can say with certainty that it was not a platypus or a hadrosaur.

Translation difficulties aside, it sounds like the site is a treasure trove of significant new fossils. They probably will not appear in the scientific literature for a few years yet, but I am looking forward to learning the truth about these new fossils.

Image courtesy of Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

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