Science Art: Sinocalliopteryx gigas as a stealth hunter feeding on the primitive bird Confuciusornis, by Cheung Chungtat

Scientific illustration by Cheung Chungtat of Chinese feathered dinosaur Sinocalliopteryx gigasClick to embiggen

An Easter Sunday lunch is served: an early bird!

This is the Chinese feathered dinosaur Sinocalliopteryx gigas, chomping the bird Confuciusornis – something we know happened because we’ve actually found a fossil with the bones of one inside the stomach of the other. That discovery was the subject of this PLOS One article, which is where the illustration came from. I like the way the illustrator made it look both like a scientific illustration and a classical Chinese drawing. Only suitable for a bird named for Confucius, I suppose – as well as a dinosaur named “Giant Chinese-beautiful-feather.”

The Sinocalliopteryx weighed about 44 pounds (20 kilograms) and measured around 8 feet long (2.4 meters). And although it might be indelicate to say so, it’s around 125 million years old. As far as we can tell, these creatures ate a lot of birds. At first (which is to say, in 2007, when the first one was discovered), paleontologists thought they might have been capable of flight despite their size. After a few more discoveries, they’ve concluded that Sinocalliopteryx was a “stealth predator,” sneaking up on birds on or near the ground and snatching them before they could take flight.