Paleontologists have excavated a plethora of feathered dinosaurs in China over the past few years have, but none of those dinosaurs had feathers like this. Scientists examining a news specimen of the dinosaur Beipiaosaurus have found imprints of a proto-feather that looks like the missing link between primitive downy feathers and the modern feathers seen on birds.
Additionally, Beipiaosaurus belongs to a recently discovered and poorly-understood group of dinosaurs called therizinosaurs. The specimen with the feathers is also the first Beipiaosaurus specimen found with a skull, which will provide important evidence about the relationship between therizinosaurs and other dinosaurs.
"Feathered dinosaurs are known by the bucket now from northern China," said Mark Norell, Chairman and Curator of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, "but this is the first intermediary between feathers of Tyrannosaurs like Dilong and the feathers of more birdlike dinosaurs."
The feather, described in a January 12th paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, consists of a ridged central shaft flanked by tufts of feather. Simple downy feathers consist of just the tufts, while modern feathers sport far more complexity with hard branches shooting off from the central shaft.
Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the evolution of birds, called the feathers "interesting" and "striking", saying "The new specimen provides further evidence of these filament-like feather precursors in non-avian theropods that we predicted from evidence from how feathers develop in living birds."
Thomas Holtz, Director of the Earth, Life and Time Program in the Department of Geology at the University of Maryland, speculated that the feathers could have been used for display, to keep the dinosaur warm or to help keep the dinosaur's eggs warm while brooding. However, Holtz added that the skull of the specimen interested him far more than the feather.
Norell echoed that sentiment, mentioning that therizinosaurs continue to vex paleontologists with their weird bodies. Therizinosaurs are related to meat eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor, but are themselves herbivorous. Additionally, therizinosaurs have highly specialized hands and feet, both with giant claws similar to a tree sloth. Because of that radical body form, paleontologists have had a hard time figuring out where to place therizinosaurs in the evolutionary tree. Holtz and Norell both mentioned that this new specimen, with its intact skull, might help fix some of that confusion.
And while the place of therizinosaurs will continue to be debated in paleontological circles, it seems that the debate over the evolution of bird feathers can be put to rest.
Said Norell, "It is what we expected, but it's always good to find things that confirm that what you were doing was right."
This discovery doesn't point towards a missing link, or support evolutionary theory in any way. As always Popsci shows its evolution based bias.
I agree with gte741y, this hardly is concrete proof of an evolutionary process. one freak manifestation of similar traits in a single feather doesn't indicate anything beyond this animal having that feather. Many species exhibit similar traits, but are genetically quite distant or even unrelated.
Much more evidence is needed before such an important conclusion is reached.
That is science, not this "this looks like its almost like this" crap that often is pulled like fleece over the uneducated masses' eyes.
Well, looks like the Scopes Monkey trial gets tried again and again everyday... and I guess next we'll start getting complaints that PopSci supports the heliocentric model of the solar system, the idea that the Apollo moon landing actually happened, and the ridiculous notion that the earth is not a flat disc supported by elephants and turtles. Evolution through natural selection happens each year as new strains of germs develop resistance to our antibiotics. An accelerated version of evolution, through deliberate selection of traits, has been demonstrated by humans for thousands of years in the practice of domesticating and breeding wolves to the point we have chihuahuas, and productive agricultural crops from wild plants. It boggles my mind why anyone, even the most devoutly religious, would have a problem accepting a 150 year old scientific principle that is almost as well established as Newtonian physics.
How unfair and unenlightened! Do your history and see who won the Scopes trial. There is no need for the anti-evolutionist to rehash it, Scopes was convicted. He broke the law (maybe) and was punished (barely, his fines were paid for him). The entire thing was a media show anyways, from the choice of city, the choice of lawyers, to the choice of Scopes himself by the ACLU.
Also note that the intent of neither post was to say that evolution does not occur. They merely said that this individual case proves absolutely nothing about evolution or the evolutionary path to feathers.
Even evolutionary beliefs make claims of missing links difficult to justify through ideas like covergent evolution. After all, even if you have a species that evolved feathers, it does not mean that THAT species was the parent species of all feathers, since they could have developed in a population of a different species somewhere completely distinct and isolated.
Try and remember that science is about observation, not proving or disproving belief systems, and do a better job observing the posts you are out to correct.
Okay then! All those pro-intelligent design type people arrayed against evolution carp on about the lack of transitional fossils. So when something is found that shows a transitional form of feathers and can lend insight into the evolution of this trait you all cry that it proves nothing. I don't think anybody is claiming that this one fossil is the prototypical "missing link". It is one more piece of the puzzle that shows how feathers and birds probably evolved from dinosaurs. I think it is much more likely that this is a real trait than a freak manifestation of a form of feather. Do you know what the odds are that one mutated dinosaur with this "freak manifestation" died in such a place and way to actually be fossilized and then that fossil survived and was found by humans? It is far more likely that this was a normal transitional form and that many dinosaurs had it so that we would be able to find a fossil millions of years later.
I'm well aware of who lost the Scopes trial -- I majored in history. That's the point. But it was a hollow victory for the anti-evolutionists, and made the people of Tennessee look like yokels when the national press covered the story. So, if someone wants to keep fighting this fight, they can feel free to do so.
Also, a post that states the article does not prove evolution does indeed come across as anti-evolutionary. If that was not the case, then I apologize for lumping in specific critique of the article with creationists.
rk - The problem with transitional fossils is that they have to show a clear transition, step by step, from one thing to another, over time. That is an INCREDIBLE burden of proof to put on any fossil. Otherwise, any transitional fossil can be "talked away" as merely a unique creature (after all, we have mammals that lay eggs, but no one is arguing that mammals evolved as egg layers).
This is part of the reason why the arguements on both sides so quickly turn bitter. The evolutionist is never going to find "proof," only evidence, so the opposition will always attack it, because it is not proof. The evolutionist is then upset, because his evidence is valid, but he knows no matter how vailid or how often, such evidence will never add up to "proof" (the fossil record is not that complete). So, before long one group is smug and the other is condescending (they tend to switch off which is which).
The burden then is on the evolutionist to only present the factual evidence (here is a dino with primitive feathers). The burden on the opposition is to only point out the unsubstanciated conclusions in a clear and tactful way without mockery are slighting the science (because there is a dino with primitive feathers there, and that deserves attention).
Statements like, "it seems that the debate over the evolution of bird feathers can be put to rest," are poor science and only serve to whip up those looking for poor science to mock.
Come on now... you don't need to fight...
It's obvious that this is another scientific joke !
You know... useless and lazy scientists that produce no work at all, waiting for an old piece of junk made of bone to appear in front of them to present it as a missing link in a tree that hasn't even been proven to exist yet (but that makes no difference - it's enough that some cretins believe that is has been) in order to show that their presence on their office-chair has a meaning.
And not only that. They didn't even finished processing the fossil photo in Photoshop yet (every site that refers to this event uses it's own imaginative photo).
How stupid do they think we are anyway ?
And how about that:
"Because of that radical body form, paleontologists have had a hard time figuring out where to place therizinosaurs in the evolutionary tree."
Yeah, I 'm sure of that... as I 'm sure that in the end they threw a coin to figure it through... as they did with EVERY single organism placed in this meaningless tree.
"Thomas Holtz, Director of the Earth, Life and Time Program in the Department of Geology at the University of Maryland, speculated that the feathers could have been used for display, to keep the dinosaur warm or to help keep the dinosaur’s eggs warm while brooding."
Oh my ! Those guys are geniuses !
"Beipiaosaurus belongs to a recently discovered and poorly-understood group of dinosaurs called therizinosaurs."
That means that there are highly-understood groups of dinosaurs ? Right... !
And those are the same quality scientists that 2000 years ago stated that the earth cannot be a sphere since then the people on the bottom part would fall off ! The only difference now is that the 've learned that the earth is not flat and -hopefully- that the only flat thing around is their brain...