It seems logical to assume that dinosaurs sprouted wings along their evolutionary path to flight. But new research by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and the University of Calgary suggests that may not be the case. Their study focused on the fossilized remains of an ostrich-like species called Ornithomimus edmontonicus, which had been found in 75-million-year-old rock formations in China and Germany. In the film Jurassic Park, a repository for all our incorrect impressions of what dinosaurs really looked like, these dinosaurs were depicted as hairless, "fleet-footed birds," says Reuters. But they actually had feathers and wings, which the scientists theorize could have been used to attract the opposite sex.
In this case researchers examined three fossils: One young dinosaur and two adult specimens. According to the records, all three were covered in downy feathers. The adults, however, turned out to have one remarkable difference: They "had longer feathers with stiff central shafts protruding from [their] forelimbs," says The Telegraph. The adults had wings — and not only that, they grew them after infancy.
This difference between the young dinosaur and the older specimens suggests the wings "may have evolved not for flight," says the BBC, "but rather to aid in the quest to reproduce."
"The specimens from China that show wings are dinosaurs that are more closely related to birds," lead author Darla Zelenitsky of the University of Calgary tells BBC News. "It's a more primitive dinosaur…it indicates wings evolved earlier than previously thought."
The presence of the primitive wings in these relatively large dinosaurs indicate that wings did not initially evolve for flight, and the occurrence of these wing-like structures in only the adult individual suggest that these structures were used later in life, perhaps for purposes like display or courtship.