This is Emily Willoughby's tumblr. I am an illustrator and huge featherbrain, and my blog is for science, illustration, dinosaurs, feathers, fossils, and occasionally a little bit of silliness.
Hi there, I’m glad you like my work! This seems to be a fairly common question when seeing larger dromaeosaurs depicted with large, voluminous “wings”. There are a few things to address about this idea, so let’s first take a look at the fighting dinosaurs specimen:
(Wikimedia commons, by user “Cobalt”)
The Velociraptor here is definitely grappling the Protoceratops with its left hand and being grasped by its beak with its right hand, but it’s not clear whether the animal actually intended to use either hand in the attack. More recent theories on the origin of the flapping motion in birds suggest that the predatory precursors to birds may have stood on top of their prey with their feet, using outspread clawed hands to help with balancing rather than active predation. This behavior could have persisted in dromaeosaur lineages, and a greater surface area of feathers on the arms would have provided better balance.
(Deinonychus atop its prey, using its winged arms for balance. Art by me.)
It’s unclear whether dromaeosaurs were using their hands for predation very often at all. It may well be the case that the clawed hands of dromaeosaurs were employed in a similar way to the hind claws of cats: cats don’t typically use their hind claws to capture prey, but anyone who’s ever been grabbed and “kicked” by a cat knows that it can certainly use them to inflict pain, when it wants to. The fighting Velociraptor specimen may have been grasping the Protoceratops's frill as it was struggling to get away after the tide turned against it. It's hard to say.
Either way, it’s also probably the case that long primaries would have impeded the grasping abilities of dromaeosaurs less than you might think. A 2006 study by Phil Senter and colleagues addressed the question of whether primary feathers on the hands of deinonychosaurs would significantly impede the ability to grasp.
(Diagram from Senter 2006 illustrating grasp ability of deinonychosaur with long hand-feathers. (A) dromaeosaur reaching forward with wrists flexed. The wings do not obstruct each other in this position. (B) obligate supination when reaching forward with right wrist extended. (C) one-handed grasping of an item to the chest; can only be done with one hand at a time.)
Senter showed that a deinonychosaur could hold and grasp objects in several different positions of the hand and arm without obstruction of wing feathers, even if very long. Incidentally, a later study by Senter showed that Bambiraptor, at least, may have had a partially-opposable first digit (thumb) that it could use to grasp a small item against its third digit.
(Senter illustration showing possible dromaeosaur grasping ability of first and third digits.)
In this sort of grasping of the hand, note that the second digit remains stationary. As any present remige feathers would be attached to this digit alone, a stationary position would not cause the “wing” to impede the grasping motion.
It is always possible with the fighting dinosaur specimen, at least, the Velociraptor may have fared better without the long primaries. But the advantages of having voluminous remiges probably outweighed any possible drawback, especially if the animal did not usually use its hands for this purpose in predation. This particular Velociraptor, clearly, fared poorly.
A sensational discovery in Schamhaupten: In an Altmannstein quarry near the Schamhaupten district, a hobbyist collector has found a fossil of Archaeopteryx. It is the world’s twelfth specimen. Though exciting, the new discovery is not without its complications.
For Francis and Rosi Gerstner, the discovery in the little fossil quarry is very exciting. “An Archaeopteryx - what else might await us in Schamhaupten?” ask the fossil lovers. Tourists and hobbyist paleontologists alike have been allowed to dig in the quarry not far from his farm for 14 years. After the discovery of Juravenator had triggered a dino-fever in Schamhaupten around 16 years ago, the family had long suspected that it would one day yield another significant find. Now that it has, the Gerstners expect a similar effect this time - but they aren’t yet sure whether to be happy about the new sensational discovery.
The resentment of the couple is partly due to the length of time that has passed since the discovery. Gerstner reported that in 2010, a collector from Nuremberg removed the well-preserved fossil from the quarry’s Jurassic limestone. However, the owner of the quarry - and chairman of the Altmannstein Home and Tourist Association - only learned of the find this past summer, much to his annoyance. The Nuremberg collector reported the find at the Eichstätt district office, which operates the Schamhaupten area. At the same time, he registered the world’s twelfth Archaeopteryx specimen as a national treasure. However, for the Gerstners, this is not enough. Half the value of such a find, they believe, should belong to them, and experts place the value of such an extraordinary specimen at least several million Euros. The fact that the finder wants to keep the specimen in a private collection also irritates the couple. “The money is a secondary issue for us,” says Rosi Gerstner, and her husband adds: “Most importantly, the fossil belongs in a museum.”
The couple is not alone in this opinion. Among other things, the Altmannstein mayor Norbert Hummel wants a suitable presentation for the sensational discovery. Hummel, a CSU politician, knows the importance of funding for his commune, and would like a place for the fossil in a museum at the nature preserve Altmühltal, near Altmannstein. “I understand that such a valuable discovery should not be locked inside our little museum,” says Hummel. As with Juravenator, however, he figures Altmannstein could at least receive a replica of the fossil for his exhibit.
Although he and his wife knew nothing of the discovery at their doorstep for a long time, Gerstner suspects that the news had long since spread amongst amateur collectors. “We had a lot of fossil looters non-stop,” said Gerstner, describing a major problem of the site. The increasing issue of fossil theft was a significant factor in the quarry deciding to close last December. Along with the Gerstners, those responsible for the quarry are now working at the nature preserve Altmühltal on a new concept, which should be initiated in time for the reopening in May. The solution: more security.
With this in mind, it seems plausible that the difficulty over their specimen could have been avoided. Meanwhile, the Gerstners have seen the Schamhauptener Archaeopteryx, and they also have some photographs of the valuable piece. The specimen itself is a fossil broken into three major and several smaller chunks. “All in all, about half a meter tall,” estimates Gerstner. “It looks like a big chicken.” A scientific analysis of the new ancient bird from Schamhauptener does not yet exist, and the professional world of paleontology has been silent so far - but stay tuned.