It's been another epic year for dinosaur discoveries. In fact, new finds have been appearing at a rate of one new species of dinosaur every two weeks!  So, as the year winds down, here are some of our favourite discoveries of 2015:

Yi qi

Yi Qi Emily Willoughby 2015 12 29
Image: Emily Willoughby

Bird? Bat? Go home evolution, you’re drunk! Yi qi (pronounced "yee chee") is one of the weirdest dinosaur finds ever. A small, feathered member of the theropod group (meaning "beast-footed"), it sported bizarre bat-like wing membranes designed for gliding from tree to tree. Supporting these wings were rod-like fingers that extended from the wrist, a feature not found in any dinosaur before this one – but similar to those you see in the cousins of dinosaurs, the pterosaurs (you might remember them from a certain CGI-packed blockbuster). 

Yi qi weighed in at around 380 grams, with a wingspan of about 60cm (23 inches). The feathers adorning its arms were not like those of modern birds – they were not designed for flight. “Yi qi is our best evidence yet that different small, feathered dinosaurs were evolving flight in different ways,” says University of Edinburgh's Steve Brusatte. Whether Yi qi could flap its wings for powered flight is up for debate since its arm muscles would not have been very powerful. In fact, it's possible that those weird wings were used purely for communication!

“The images of Yi qi make it look much scarier than it probably was in real life, since it was only the size of a pigeon!” says Shaena Montanari, also of the University of Edinburgh. But despite its small stature, it packs a powerful punch for science: “It is super cool and informative about the early evolution of flight in theropods,” Montanari adds.



Known from more than 200 bones from four individuals, the 20-foot-long Wendiceratops is one of the best known ceratopsians – or horned dinosaurs – we know. Similar to other members of this group, it had a tall horn on its nose, and two more above its eyes, possibly used for combat. Looking like a moody teenager with a bad hairdo, Wendiceratops also had a bony frill crowned with hook-shaped spikes. 

Wendiceratops is pretty nifty for its bony frill studded with banana-shaped bone hooks, and it fits within a fairly mysterious time within horned dinosaur evolution,” says Andy Farke, curator at California's Raymond M. Alf Museum, who named another horned dinosaur, Aquilops, back in 2014.

So why did Wendiceratops and its kin have such crazy facial ornamentation? It might have come in handy for recognising your own species at time when so many different horned dinos roamed the earth. 


Regaliceratops Juliu Csotonyi 2015 12 29
Image: Juliu Csotonyi

So we know horns were all the rage in the age of the dinosaurs – but none were more badass than those of Regaliceratops! Nicknamed “Hellboy”, this cousin of the celebrated Triceratops sported sharp facial horns and a bone shield adorned with radiating spear-shaped spikes, like a tribal shield.

Regaliceratops is just WEIRD” says Farke. “It kind of looks like what you would get if you asked a five year old to draw a horned dinosaur, complete with mis-proportioned face and spiky bits sticking out everywhere.”


Probrachylophoaurus John Conway 2015 12 29
Image: John Conway

Imagine a five-tonne beaked dinosaur with a flashy crest on its skull and you've got "Superduck"! Known from Montana in the US, this beast belongs to a group known as duck-billed dinosaurs, named for the bony sheaths covering their snouts, which were used for plucking plants.

As far as its North American relatives go, Superduck was pretty hefty (hence its nickname) – but it would have been dwarfed by the 16-tonne Shantungosaurus, a close cousin that lived around the same time in Asia. 

Researchers were able to tell Superduck's age at the time of its death by counting growth rings in its leg bones, much like a tree: it reached the ripe age of 14. The crest on its head that covered the top of its skull was uniquely paddle-shaped, typical of the fashion at the time. Probably too fragile for combat, it was most likely used for display.


Dakotaraptor steini life restoration by Emily Willoughby.

Made infamous by Jurassic Park, "raptors" are known for being fast, nimble dinosaurs with stiff, rudder-like tails and feet equipped with wicked sickle claws. At up to 17 feet (5 metres) in length, Dakotaraptor was among the biggest of them all. Add to that the longest claws found on any raptor (almost 10 inches on the outer edge!) and the dinosaur would certainly have been a terrifying sight to behold as it sprinted across the ancient plains of North America! 

Dakotaraptor is also the largest theropod dinosaur to have had a feathery coating on its arms, resembling the wings of modern birds. It would not have been able to fly due to its size, but this find does show that feathers evolved for more than just lift-off, including for insulation and display. 


Chileaurus Gabriel Lio 2015 12 29
Image: Gabriel Lio

Think of theropods and supersized meat-eaters like T. rex usually come to mind. But did you know that some beast-footed dinosaurs actually preferred a nice salad to flesh? Chilesaurus was one of them ... although probably not for ethical reasons.

Unlike its fearsome close relative, who had jaws equipped with razor-sharp teeth for slicing flesh, Chilesaurus had a beak designed for stripping plant matter, and a mouth full of leaf-shaped teeth for shredding its tough food. 

“It has a really weird mix of features ... [which] makes finding its true place in the dinosaur family tree really hard. This, coupled with its herbivorous diet and apparent abundance, make it the most intriguing discovery of the year, in my opinion," says Paul Barrett of London's Natural History Museum.


Top header image: Emily Willoughby