A long time ago, a man named Charles Darwin explained that creatures change slowly over time to survive as the world around them changes. These changes over time are called evolution. For a long time paleontologists believed that the birds we see today changed from theropod dinosaurs such as Velociraptor. If dinosaurs slowly evolved into birds, then there must have been a creature that was part bird and part dinosaur. The bones of Caudipteryx were discovered in 1998. It was a very exciting find for paleontologists. It was a small theropod dinosaur like many others during this period. It ran on two legs. It ate meat and had sharp teeth. Its front legs were small and useful for grabbing food. It had long, sharp claws on its fingers. But this creature had something that no other dinosaur had before: feathers! It had a feathered body, a beak and a feathered tail. Its front legs were more like wings than legs. It was somewhere between a dinosaur and a bird.
Caudipteryx lived about 120 to 136 million years ago. It was a graceful creature, with long legs and a long S-shaped neck. Its entire body was covered with small feathers called down. They must have felt like fur. Its wings had feathers that were between 6 and 8 inches long. They had shafts and veins like feathers on today’s birds. But Caudipteryx couldn’t use its wings to fly. But what did it use its wings for? Some paleontologists believe that the wings were used to catch bugs. Or the colorful feathers could have been used to attract a mate. The feathers may also have been good for keeping warm. This could be why Caudipteryx lived while so many of the other dinosaurs died.
This dinosaur might have used its wings to help it jump: by flapping its wings and taking a leap, it was probably able to jump very far. It was most likely a fast runner: we know this from studying the creature’s footprints or “trackways”. Caudipteryx was about three feet tall, which is about the size of a turkey. It was a predator, meaning that it hunted other animals for food. But it also had small stones in its gizzard called “gastroliths”. Gastroliths help mash up tough plant food, so Caudipteryx also ate plants. Creatures that eat both meat and plants are called omnivores. Caudipteryx was a very unusual dinosaur! Itsfossils were found in North Eastern China. Caudipteryx means “tail feather”.