Feathered dinosaur tail in amber!

In a market in Myanmar, the Chinese scientist Xing Lida, shown in the picture below, found a piece of amber about the size of a dried apricot, and it had an inclusion. The seller, thinking the inclusion was a piece of plant, raised the price, for biological items in amber dramatically increase its value. Still, Xing bought the piece at a relatively low price, for the seller didn’t realize that the inclusion was not a plant, but part of a theropod dinosaur! And so it was: part of the theropod’s tail, which was sprinkled with feathers. The specimen turned out to be from the mid-Cretaceous, about 99 million years old. It’s a remarkable piece:

161208121636-dinosaur-amber-2-exlarge-169

The specimen: a bit of theropod dinosaur tail with very clear feathers

161208123535-dinosaur-amber-5-exlarge-169

Ryan McKellar and Xing Lida (discoverer of the specimen) with some amber from the site. Photo from CNN.

That specimen tells us something about the nature and evolution of dinosaur feathers, which evolved long before the feathers were used for flight in the birds that evolved from theropods. The function of these feather rudiments still isn’t known, but they were likely to be for thermoregulation and could also have served as ornamentation. (Sexual selection is probably ruled out since there doesn’t seem to have been sexual dimorphism in the feathers.)

The paper, by Lida Xing et al. (reference below, along with link that may or may not allow you to get the full pdf), is the first to describe not only feathers in amber, but also mummified skin and skeleton.  It apparently belonged to a non-avian coelurosaur, the group of feathered dinosaurs from which birds are descended (not all paleontologists and ornithologists agree about that scenario, though most do). Based on the tail, the animal was very small: a CNN report on the finding says the specimen could fit in the palm of your hand, and was about the size of a sparrow. Can you imagine a dinosaur that small?

The remarkably preserved feathers were examined with phase-contrast X-ray scanning (right below), which showed a paired series of feathers along the midline of the dorsal (top) part of the tail (the bottom is sparsely feathered). Some color can be discerned, suggesting the dinosaur was white and chestnut brown, also like a sparrow. In B, below, you can see some of the vertebrae; there are eight full ones and part of a ninth—a remarkably large section of tail, and showing that the bird was indeed small. (All photo captions are from the original paper.)

gr1_lrg

Photomicrographs and SR X-Ray μCT Reconstructions of DIP-V-15103 (A) Dorsolateral overview. (B) Ventrolateral overview with decay products (bubbles in foreground, staining to lower right). (C) Caudal exposure of tail showing darker dorsal plumage (top), milky amber, and exposed carbon film around vertebrae (center). (D–H) Reconstructions focusing on dorsolateral, detailed dorsal, ventrolateral, detailed ventral, and detailed lateral aspects of tail, respectively. Arrowheads in (A) and (D) mark rachis of feather featured in Figure 4A. Asterisks in (A) and (C) indicate carbonized film (soft tissue) exposure. Arrows in (B) and (E)–(G) indicate shared landmark, plus bubbles exaggerating rachis dimensions; brackets in (G) and (H) delineate two vertebrae with clear transverse expansion and curvature of tail at articulation. Abbreviations for feather rachises: d, dorsal; dl, dorsalmost lateral; vl, ventralmost lateral; v, ventral. Scale bars, 5 mm in (A), (B), (D), and (F) and 2 mm in (C), (E), (G), and (H).

For reference: here are the parts of a modern bird feather; the important parts are the rachis, or main shaft, the barbs, branches off the shaft, and barbules, the smaller branches off the barbs bearing hooks that hold the barbules together—like Velcro—into a single apparatus.

parts_of_feather_modified

Parts of a feather: 1. Vane,  2. Rachis, 3. Barb, 4. Afterfeather, Hollow shaft, calamus

This picture shows a series of rachis-like structures that splay out from a single place, and each of those is covered with branches, which the authors interpret as barbules:

gr3_lrg

Photomicrographs of DIP-V-15103 Plumage (A) Pale ventral feather in transmitted light (arrow indicates rachis apex). (B) Dark-field image of (A), highlighting structure and visible color. (C) Dark dorsal feather in transmitted light, apex toward bottom of image. (D) Base of ventral feather (arrow) with weakly developed rachis. (E) Pigment distribution and microstructure of barbules in (C), with white lines pointing to pigmented regions of barbules. (F–H) Barbule structure variation and pigmentation, among barbs, and ‘rachis’ with rachidial barbules (near arrows); images from apical, mid-feather, and basal positions respectively. Scale bars, 1 mm in (A), 0.5 mm in (B)–(E), and 0.25 mm in (F)–(H). See also Figure S4.

Below is a close-up of the feather, which shows a “weakly-developed” rachis off of which ramify alternately-placed barbs, themselves bearing barbules.  According to the authors, this supports one of two alternative forms of feather development proposed by evolutionists, with both shown in the bottom part of the figure below. In one scenario (top), the barbs ramify from a developmental focus, then coming to branch directly opposite each other off a rachis, withe the barbules evolving later, becoming asymmetrical to form a flying surface.

The second scenario, which the authors say this specimen supports, is the development of barbules on the barbs before one of them (I think) evolves into a rachis with alternatingly-oriented barbs (that’s this specimen, circled in the figure as an intermediate). Then the barbs evolutionarily move to positions opposite each other on the rachis. Thus, this intermediate supports the bottom evolutionary scenario.

I have to admit that I’m not familiar with the controversy about feather development, and if there are facts to add here I’ll leave them to more knowledgable readers.

gr4_lrg

DIP-V-15103 Structural Overview and Feather Evolutionary-Developmental Model Fit (A and B) Overview of largest and most planar feather on tail (dorsal series, anterior end), with matching interpretive diagram of barbs and barbules. Barbules are omitted on upper side and on one barb section (near black arrow) to show rachidial barbules and structure; white arrow indicates follicle. (C) Evolutionary-developmental model and placement of new amber specimen. Brown denotes calamus, blue denotes barb ramus, red denotes barbule, and purple denotes rachis [as in 5, 12]. Scale bars, 1 mm in (A) and (B).

Finally,  you might say, “Well, this may not be the developmental pathway for modern bird feathers, but only for the lineage that contained this species.” But that’s unlikely since paleontologists and developmental biologists tell us that feathers evolved only once, so this specimen does have a bearing on feather evolution. (By the way, the supposedly unique evolution of human intelligence is often used by theologians to claim that that our intelligence, with the ability to apprehend the divine, must have itself been promoted by God. But feathers and elephant trunks are evolutionary one-offs, too! Could it be that God is a bird?)

8455697_f1024

Thoth, an Ibis God of ancient Egypt.

h/t: Nicole Reggia ♥

______

Xing, L., R. C. McKellar, X. Xu, G. Li, M. Bai, W. S. I. V. Persons, T. Miyashita, M. J. Benton, J. Zhang, A. P. Wolfe, Q. Yi, K. Tseng, H. Ran, and P. J. Currie. A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber. Current Biology. 26, 1–9 December 19, 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.10.008

83 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Sub

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Sike

  2. Darren Garrison
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Amazing find. (I started a thread about it on a different forum with the title “Amber gets piece of tail.) And given that the spinal column is broken off at the edge of the amber, there is a possibility that there is more of it out there to be found (or maybe already in someone’s inventory or collection.) Surely not the whole dino, but maybe a bit more of the tail.

  3. GBJames
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    sub

  4. Monika
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    That is one cool find, talk about the right person being in the right place at the right time.
    I wonder whether it’s possible to extract DNA from amber, no, not the Jurassic Park way, but from one of the vertebrae.

    • Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      They say in the paper that it’s unlikely, as the specimen is desiccated.

      • Monika
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        Such a shame, just to think what we might learn about the evolution of birds from a DNA sample. Perhaps one day science will find a way.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      A snippet of info about that that I read is that they did not find DNA. So that implies they looked.

  5. Kevin
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Exciting. That kind of find could certainly occupy one person for a lifetime.

  6. eric
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Very cool find. I guess the most likely explanation for the preservation is that the thing died, and then afterwards was partially covered in sap? When I first heard of this I had a “Kipling Just-So story” like image in my mind, of a little dino sitting there while sap congealed around its tail and then as it runs away…SNAP! Quite silly, but that’s where my mind went.

    Based on the tail, the animal was very small: a CNN report on the finding says the specimen could fit in the palm of your hand, and was about the size of a sparrow. Can you imagine a dinosaur that small?

    Well yeah I can…a sparrow. 🙂

    • busterggi
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      You too, eh?

      Little raptors were all over my feeders this morning.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      Very cool find. I guess the most likely explanation for the preservation is that the thing died, and then afterwards was partially covered in sap?

      Remember that a significant number of modern reptiles can drop their tail as a distraction for predators. I honestly can’t remember if this has been seen previously in the fossil record, but one would expect such an event to leave a mark in the bones at the separation point. I’ll have to RTFP tomorrow (too late tonight)

  7. darrelle
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    WOW! What an exciting find. I’d be spending all my spare time combing through the markets looking for more amazing amber finds.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      Problem is that by the time the amber gets to the market, you’ve lost the context. It’s vanishingly rare for there to be any indication of the source of anything like this. There might be dozens of other amber lumps which were fund in the same shovel-full, or nothing on that quarry-face on that day.
      Unfortunately.

  8. Achrachno
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    The ant-like spider, top center, would probably be noteworthy in any other chunk of amber.

    • Darren Garrison
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Isn’t that an ant-like ant?

      • GBJames
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        We should ask Ant to let us know!

      • Achrachno
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Maybe, but I counted 7 legs, which is too many for an ant but OK for a spider that lost one.

        • GBJames
          Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          Ant antennae.

        • Darren Garrison
          Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          I’m only seeing 6, plus 2 antenna.

  9. Bruce Lyon
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Really amazing find. Regarding Jerry’s comment about the evolutionary pathway part (Figure 4), the issue is not so much a controversy but more potential alternative pathways by which simple or proto-feathers could have evolved into the complex structures we see in modern birds. The figure in the paper depicts an important perspective that Rick Prum (now at Yale) brought to the table. Prum put two things together: each part of a complex feather (rachis, barbs, barbules, etc) is each produced by a developmental mechanism and if we vary the steps at which each component is added evolutionarily, we can produce a series of feathers that result from the combined developmental components present. And the temporal order in which developmental novelties are added can result in a series starting with really simple to modern complex feathers. The issue that Jerry mentions is which of two steps came first (Prum thought that either was possible). In addition, as the authors point out, this dinosaur’s feather do not fit perfectly into the scenario, based on the combination of feather traits.

    Prum’s theory is a really cool idea and talk about being in the right place at the right time–Prum proposed his idea before most (or all?) of the feathered dinosaur finds. Since then, there have been so many feathered dinos, from different places on the phylogenetic tree, that one can actually test Prum’s scenario in terms of how feather complexity evolved. If my memory is correct, the patterns fit pretty well and we see a progression from very simple hair like structures to fully complex feathers in some some dinosaurs.

  10. merilee
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    lovely plumage

    • busterggi
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Almost got nailed to its perch too.

      • Merilee
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        This one’s been “resting” for a very long time…I wonder what Ann Elk (Miss) would have to say about it? ( cough cough)

  11. Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on aspiblog and commented:
    A spectacular find as detailed on Why Evolution is True.

  12. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    What got me a bit more excited about this was an idea that the little dino got pretty well mired in resin, and later its entombed body was broken up so maybe there is more of it in the ground. Maybe. I doubt it would have broken off its trapped tail.
    But their suggestion is that its tail was trapped in resin, and it died like that. If so, then no more remains.

    • darrelle
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      In the paper they speculate that the fragment of tail they have is from the center of a longer tail that was 15 – 25 vertebrae total. Given that and that the soft tissue and feathers are intact makes for some interesting speculation about how in the heck this poor critter died.

  13. Carl S
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I’m sure Ken Ham has a better explanation…

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Lots of birds in the bible.

      “Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, So a curse without cause does not alight.”
      Proverbs, 26:2.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        And don’t forget the bat (Leviticus 11.19)!

        But that was the first thing that struck me–it must really suck being a young-earth creationist in this day and age. Here’s a 99 million-year-old fossil, and the people examining it are using phase-contrast X-ray scanning and other cool stuff.

        But then I remembered—they can just ignore the evidence, and continue to rake in the bucks from the bamboozled ignorati. So, it’s not really so bad after all.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Since you (sort of) asked…

      Ham’s (or one of his paid shill’s) answer is here</a.

  14. rickflick
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Terrific new find. It really astonishing to imagine holding one of these little beasts in your hand. Letting it scurry about the house. Ooops! Lock the cat away. ;(

  15. George
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    You people are so gullible. God just made that piece of amber seem to be 99 million years old to test your faith.

    If you believe that, I have a bridge over the East River in NYC for sale.

    • Posted December 9, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      I think a colleague of Slartibartfast might have planted it.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Actually, an alternative hypothesis is that satan put it there to mislead us.

      Now the question becomes, what type of experiment could one devise to confirm or disconfirm one of these hypotheses vis-à-vis the other (or others, if you also include Speaker To Animals distinctly heterodox Slartibartfast’s hypothesis, not to mention the Zeus hypothesis, the allah hypothesis, etc.)? Which is, of course, in a nutshell the problem with “creation science”.

      • George
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        BLASPHEMERS! I will have to wash out your mouths with soap. Which I made myself and has more bugs in it than that amber.

        From your proposed hypotheses, I think Slartibartfast is the most likely.

      • Brian Davis
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        I think we can rule out the Satan hypothesis. If the hypothesis was true then we would expect that Satan would reward those promoting his lies (biologists, paleontologists, etc.) with worldly riches and power.

  16. Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Wow, this is so cool. Lucky guy to find that!

  17. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Wow – I find that I accept the dinosaurs had feathers, but having been exposed to the naked dinosaur replicas in toy form since my childhood, it is hard to conceive of and a find like this makes is all so much more real!

    • Mike
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      There’s speculation that even our pal T’rex had Feathers but of the downy kind, think of a 40ft Emperor Penguin chick with 6″ Teeth and and a
      psychotic personality, makes him almost cuddly.

  18. Amarnath
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    …feathers and elephant trunks are evolutionary one-offs…

    Now I know why we hindus pray to Ganesha.

    • busterggi
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Is there a god of duck penises?

  19. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    It is just so awesome. Here we see a moment frozen in time, millions of years ago. The struggles of the tiny dino can be perceived in the swirly debris, tracks of air bubbles, and the disarrayed feathers. Entombed for an eternity along with some ants and bits of tree and maybe moss. Only much later to be seen by strange, super-intelligent apes.

  20. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Double clicking & zooming in on the main pix at top is quite a treat, as there are several insects to find.
    Some are floating in plain site in the amber, & several others superimposed on the dino tail. Besides the ants, there are a couple different kinds of flies, what looks like a largeish rove beetle, and assorted other bugs and bug parts. That was fun!

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 1:21 am | Permalink

      Ah, thanks for the encouragement! I’d tried clicking on the very top pic but it didn’t enlarge for me, so I gave up. After reading your comment I tried the next pic in line and it worked! Fascinating!

  21. DrBrydon
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry. I knew you’d post on this, and it would be a lot clearer than what was in the MSM.

    Remarkable that feathers only evolved once, given how many times eyes have evolved.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Likely eyes are really simple in comparison. They can scale up from minute sizes, they can be modular, they can use many principles of light reflection/diffraction, et cetera.

      • loren russell
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        Beyond that DrBrydon may be mixing apples and oranges. Eyes certainly have evolved many times, but all seem based on opsin detectors that may have been present in the first animals.

        Feathers, meaning the specific cuticular structures we see in theropods and their descendents, evolved just once. But the analogy to “eye” would be “cuticular structure with such functions as thermal insulation, display, aerodynamic effoctors, etc.” And there we would see, certainly mammalian pelage [my kitteh’s angora undercoat may not be the equal of the feather on my overwintering hummingbird friend, but I’d imagine it does as well as the dinofuzz in the amber. It’s likely that the dinofuzz observed on some ornithiscian dinos evolved separately from the theropod version.

        If we don’t insist that we’re talking about keratin structures on warm-blooded vertebrates, we would find that a number of heavy-bodied insects (moths, bumblebees, scarab beetles) insulate their flight muscles with dense coats of ‘fur’ — sometimes branched ‘hair’. Bees generally have specialized ‘feathery’ branched hairs associated with their pollen-collecting ways..

        The form of the feather can be mimicked as the flight surface assumed by part, or all, of an insect wing, eg, plume moths. Then, for display, we have the wing scales of lepidoptera — pretty much functioning in this respect as plumage does for birds.

        These are analogs, but so is the concept of an eye.

  22. Posted December 9, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Astonishing. Is there any way to figure out where it might have been found?

    (And Myanmar doesn’t sound like a fun place for paleontology!)

  23. robin
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Finally the evidence to confirm that dinosaur tastes just like chicken!

    • Darren Garrison
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Or maybe turkey. Or duck. Or–maybe–robin?

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      Well, chicken jerky, maybe.

    • Dave
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      I think we can surmise it as, otherwise, it would be the sole known exception to the rule that everything tastes like chicken.

  24. Mark R.
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Astonishing! And it’s mind-blowing that science can deduce so much information from such a small sample. Science is a very powerful tool of discovery.

    What do they do with the piece of amber after the analysis? Lock it away for safe keeping? Give it to a museum? Sell it on the open market? I wonder how much someone would pay for a dinosaur tail in amber. I’ll bet a hell of a lot.

    • busterggi
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      A piece of tail can be expensive.

      Gotta watch Reptilicus this weekend – the original Danish version.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      The specimen is curated at Dexu Institute of Palaeontology, Chaozhou, China as specimen DIP-V-15103. Unless someone steals it, then as the holotype of it’s species, it’ll be part of the permanent collection there for the remainder of the lifetime of our species.
      Nobody knows what imaging or analytical techniques will be available in a generation, so the specimen will be saved for that.

      • Mark R.
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Aha, well that’s good to know…thanks Aidan.

  25. Mark Joseph
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read it, and don’t know if it’s any good, or even if it addresses the question in the second paragraph of the OP, but since no one else has mentioned it yet, I will–there is a recent (2012) book by Thor Hanson, titled Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle.

  26. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    God probably isn’t a bird, for the obvious reason, though birds are divine.

  27. squidmaster
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Your comment, Jeery, that “Sexual selection is probably ruled out since there doesn’t seem to have been sexual dimorphism in the feathers” puzzles me. There is plenty of (admittedly speculative) writing that hypothesizes that feathers, among other archosaurian traits, were subject to sexual selection. See, for example, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/sexual-selection-in-the-fossil-record/ for a summary. Can you clarify the thinking that feathers were *not* subject to sexual selection?

    • squidmaster
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      Jerry, that would be. I’m sure you never jeer.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      The true hallmark of sexual selection is if an elaborate trait is found in one sex or not the other. The article you site only says that some dinosaurs had elaborate plumes. Now if only one sex had those plumes, or they were more exaggerated in males than in females, I’d take that as a definite sign of sexual selecdtion. And it could be that that is indeed the case and they just don’t have enough fossils to see a clear difference between the sexes. But I’m not aware of any feathered dinosaurs in which males are a lot more feathered, or have plumes and such, than do the females. They may exist, and I don’t know about them, or we may have not found them yet. That was the basis of my statement, but I have to say that I really don’t know the literature well enough to make that ccall. I should have explained this better, and I may be wrong about the fossils. Plumes themselves don’t denote sexual selection as there are some species like puffins in which both sexes have such traits. Now that could be MUTUAL sexual selection, or it could be something else.

      • John Harshman
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        Why do you rule out mutual sexual selection? It appears to be common enough in extant birds.

        • Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I was going to put that in my comment and simply forgot about it.

      • squidmaster
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 3:54 am | Permalink

        Part of the problem in diagnosing sexual selection in non-avian dinosaurs is that gender is difficult to diagnose from skeletal remains. There is one T. rex, I recall, that was clearly female (presence of medullary bone) and at least one ovoraptosaur with what appeared to be internal eggs. Not exactly a statistically reassuring assemblage. The situation is a bit more clear in pterosaurs, where large assemblages of sexually dimorphic individuals have been reported (http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(14)00525-9). Some of the individuals in this paper had internal eggs, making their sex determination less ambiguous. You are certainly correct (and Naish would, I think, agree) that sexual *dimorphism* in non-avian dinos is poorly documented. But the presence of sexual dimorphism in related taxa and the presence of traits that are sexually selected in other species (horns, crests, feathers) is strongly suggestive of sexual selection. More fissils!!

        • rickflick
          Posted December 11, 2016 at 6:44 am | Permalink

          This article from 2013 discusses the issue, mentioning the case of Sue, the famous supposedly female T Rex found in the 1990s. They say the evidence for dimorphism in dinosaur bones is “tenuous”.

          http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/23/secret-of-the-dinosaur-sexes-locked-in-bone/

          • squidmaster
            Posted December 11, 2016 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

            There is a lot of speculation about ‘gracile’ and ‘robust’ T. rex morphs being different sexes. Usually the robust morph is assumed female. But absent some undeniably male or female correlate, it’s hard to say for sure.

            • rickflick
              Posted December 11, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

              Sue was named after a paleontologist, based on what they thought were sex indications in the bones. Now it’s undetermined.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 12, 2016 at 1:52 am | Permalink

                You mean we could have another Boy Named Sue?!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

                Better check for the gravel in the guts and the spit in the eye then.

              • rickflick
                Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:58 am | Permalink

                But the meanest thing that he ever did
                Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue”

  28. Dale Franzwa
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Saw the dinosaur feather story on the CBS Evening News tonight. Gonna upset some “young-earth creationists.”

    • Brian Davis
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      It’s a Chinese discovery. They’ll give it as much credence as China’s other great conspiracy: climate change.

  29. Diane G.
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    What a thrilling discovery!

  30. gluonspring
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this report!

    It’s been wonderful to watch our knowledge of dinosaurs develop so much over my lifetime. As a boy with toy dinosaurs I would have never dreamed they had feathers. And to see that idea go from a suggestion, to something with some evidence, to finding a preserved example of it like this. Well, it makes the heart swell.

    All the more so when contrasted with the dead hand of religious dogma I grew up with.

  31. Beau Quilter
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m confused by one of Jerry’s parentheticals:

    “(Sexual selection is probably ruled out since there doesn’t seem to have been sexual dimorphism in the feathers.)”

    If he’s referring to this one specimen in amber, how can scientists determine sexual dimorphism from a single specimen?

    If he’s referring to all specimens of dinosaur fossils showing feathers, I still don’t see how you can rule out sexual dimorphism. In birds, sexual dimorphism in feathers is often seen in color differences, which can’t be seen in dino fossils.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes, good point; I’m not ruling it out, just saying I think thermoregulation is a better hypothesis, though that’s dicey too because I’m not sure whether the incipient stages of feather evolution would help keep dinosaurs warm.

      • squidmaster
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 3:56 am | Permalink

        it’s also quite possible (and even probable) that the selective advantage of protofeathers was distinct from the selective advantage of feathers later on.

      • Beau Quilter
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. I see your point.

  32. derekw
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    But that’s unlikely since paleontologists and developmental biologists tell us that feathers evolved only once, so this specimen does have a bearing on feather evolution.
    How could that be true if Archaeopteryx which predates this find by 50my had more advanced ‘flight feathers’? Was this species somehow in some long standing (few hundred million years) evolutionary stasis and not a transitional form?

    • busterggi
      Posted December 14, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      You’ve never actually seen a bird have you? There are numerous different kinds of feathers.

      • derekw
        Posted December 14, 2016 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        I’m assuming this coelurosaur predated Arch on a phylogenetic tree so the species either was a branch off that arose before Arch and remained in evolutionary protofeather stasis for 50-100my sharing a common ancestor OR convergent evolution feathers arose twice?


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