Discovery Strengthens Evolutionary Link Between Birds And Dinosaurs
June 23, 1998--A team of scientists announced this week in Nature the discovery in northeastern China of two 120-million-year-old dinosaur species, both of which show unequivocal evidence of true feathers. Both remarkable new creatures provide further support for the theory that birds evolved from small, meat-eating, ground-dwelling dinosaurs and give new insights into the origin of birds.
The discovery was announced by an international team of scientists: Ji Qiang, director of the National Geological Museum of China; Phil Currie, curator, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Canada; Mark Norell, chairman and associate curator, Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, New York; and Ji Shu-An, of the National Geological Museum of China. The find is the cover story of the July issue of National Geographic magazine.
One of the new creatures was named Caudipteryx zoui, or "tail feather," for the fan of plumes that is visible at the end of the animal's tail. Down-like feathers and "semi-plumes" are visible on the fossil, suggesting that most of its body was feather-covered. Unlike Archaeopteryx - long considered the earliest known bird - and modern birds, whose wing-feathers are asymmetrical, however, Caudipteryx's wing-feathers are symmetrical. A symmetrical feather lacks the aerodynamic qualities thought to be necessary for flight, so it is unlikely that Caudipteryx could fly.
The other new species, Protarchaeopteryx robusta, is so-named because it
resembles Archaeopteryx, but is more primitive. Protarchaeopteryx is about the
size of a modern-day turkey, and was close to maturity when it died. Like
Caudipteryx, most of its body was probably covered with feathers, although no
evidence of wing-feathers was preserved. The relatively long legs of both
animals show that they were swift, ground-dwelling ru
Contact: Elizabeth Chapman
American Museum of Natural History