New Species Of Winged Dinasaur Named For Yale Professor

April 21, 1998

A newly discovered species of a winged dinosaur has been named in honor of Yale paleontologist John Ostrom, one of the earliest proponents of the controversial theory that modern-day birds are descended from dinosaurs. News that the creature had been named for him caused Ostrom to laugh with delight.

Dubbed Rahona ostromi ("Ostrom's menace from the clouds"), the fossil is thought to date back 65 million to 70 million years, to about the time dinosaurs faced mass extinction. It was uncovered in 1995 on the island of Madagascar by Catherine Forster of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Scott Sampson of the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Rahona ostromi had a two-foot wingspan, feathers and a sickle-shaped claw on its second toe designed for slashing prey. Such "killing claws" have previously have been found only on certain types of therapod (two-legged) dinosaurs, such as deinonychus (literally "terrible claw"), a species of dinosaur discovered by Ostrom in Montana in 1964. The presence of this claw in the Madagascar fossil has been hailed by some scientists as evidence of the bird-dinosaur link, and dismissed by others who contend that the fossilized bones must be from two completely different creatures.

Adding even more fuel to the debate is the recent discovery in China's Gobi Desert of a flightless, turkey-like dinosaur that was able to move its snout up and down like a bird. Some scientists believe that this creature, named Shuvuuia deserti -- which also lived about 70 million years ago -- and its close cousins may prove to be the most primitive birds known aside from Archaeopteryx, a feathered animal that lived 150 million years ago. It was Ostrom's detailed study of Archaeopteryx in 1973 that led him to revive the concept first proposed 100 years earlier that birds are the evolutionary descendants of dinosaurs.

Ostrom, author of the much-debated theory that some dinosaurs were warm-blooded, is professor emeritus of geology and geophysics, editor of the American Journal of Science, and curator emeritus of vertebrate paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, where he is also editor emeritus of the Peabody Museum Bulletin and Postilla.

Yale University

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