Scientists say they’ve found
more evidence of dino-bird link

by Paul Recer

Associated Press

This article is posted because a reader refers to it in his letter to PAM. It is NOT part of PAM’s library, and never has been. Apart from the reference in that one letter, this article is unlinked.

October 14, 1999

Washington — A fierce turkey-sized animal with sharp claws and teeth may have been the first flying feathered dinosaur, a missing link between the lumbering lizards of millions of years ago and the graceful birds of today.

Fossils of the animal, called Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, suggest that it lived 120 million to 140 million years ago when a branch of dinosaurs was evolving into the vast family of birds that now live on every continent, researchers said Thursday.

“We’re looking at the first dinosaur that was capable of flying,” said Philip Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada, a dinosaur expert who helped analyze the new fossil.

“We don’t know how good a flier it was, but it certainly has all of the structures you would expect to see in a flying animal,” he said. The animal’s shoulder girdle and breast bone resemble that of modern birds, said Currie, and its hands had been modified to form part of the wing structure. It also had a full set of feathers and a long tail that probably gave it stability in flight.

“The long stiff tail suggests that it helped maneuver in flight, but it also suggests that the animal wouldn’t have been a very good flier,” Currie said.

Archaeoraptor also had hollow bones, typical of birds. Such bones are strong, but light enough to help the birds the fly.

“This animal was about the size of a small turkey,” Currie said. “That is relatively big for a bird, but small for a dinosaur.”

  

Unearthed in China

The fossils, to be unveiled for the first time Friday at the National Geographic Society’s Explorers Hall in Washington, are among a group of feathered dinosaur remains unearthed recently in the Liaoning Province of China.

Another animal, called Sinornithosaurus millenii, or “Chinese bird-reptile of the millennium,” had birdlike features and short downy feathers. It also was about the size of a turkey but probably was not capable of flight.

The Sinornithosaurus, however, “had this terrible claw on its hind legs and much longer claws on its hands,” said Currie.

“It would have been quite fearsome for its size,” he said. “You can imagine being attacked by a turkey with claws.”

Fossils of another feathered dinosaur, called Beipiaosaurus inexpectus, also are being made public by the National Geographic. This animal was larger than the others, about 7 feet long, and apparently had stiff, narrow feathers that provided warmth. It is not thought to have been capable of flight.

  

Cousins of T. Rex

The three animals are all theropod dinosaurs, a group that included the ultimate meat-eater, the Tyrannosaurus rex. Theropods all walked upright on their hind legs, had long tails and were thought to be fast and deadly.

The new findings also suggest that many theropods, including Tyrannosaurus, may have had feathers at some point of their development. The National Geographic-sponsored researchers suggest that Tyrannosaurus infants may have hatched with a coat of down that was shed as they got older.

  

  

  

On 29 April 2006, in response to a reader’s letter, we inserted a NoRobots tag on this letter, effectively removing it from Search databases that honor any of the various NoRobots tags that we use.

The reader also pointed out that Archaeoraptor liaoningensis itself was shown to have been two fossils, not one, the tail having come from a different species of animal than the rest of the body. This was known by Professor Curie at the time of his initial investigation, although the story of his investigation was reported erroneously to the press. (National Geographic.) Indeed, the fossil itself was initially smuggled out of China! It was later determined that a Chinese farmer had glued the two fossils together before he sold them on the black market.

The reader, Charles “Chip” Fields, snidely called this “a fraud,” implying that it was scientists who hatched the plot, laughingly suggesting that this tarnishes the entire field of palentology, even though it was a lowly farmer who initially committed the hoax. Fields further castigated us for “dishonesty” for having this article posted as a reference, even though our posted self-description clearly states that what’s in our library is not necessarily a reflection of our opinion and not necessarily endorsed by virtue of its being posted. Most interestingly, this particular piece isn’t even in our library at all, and never has been! Rather, it is here as a reference to make up for a dead link in a reader's letter.

Nevertheless, the truth remains that a great many feathered, hollow-boned dinosaus have been found in this bed in the Liaoning Province.