Easily the biggest news of the day is the finding of alleged “proto feathers” or “dino fuzz” in an ornithischian dinosaur. For the most part this quick post is just going to add to the echo chamber of Tianyulong confuciusi posts and link redirects that are currently popping up around the web.
The news comes following a paper by Xiao-Ting et al, in the journal Nature.
The paper’s title is:
I won’t be able to read over the article until tomorrow (at which time I will return to this).? Judging from its brief 3 page spread, I expect this discovery to be as briefly documented as the alleged feathers on Psittacosaurus find from a few years back.
Nonetheless, as with the Psittacosaurus find, the news outlets and dino fan sites (including the Dinosaur Mailing List) are all a buzz with “feathered” dinosaur news and how it relates to the origin of feathers themselves.
Unfortunately what I don’t see (and didn’t see in many of the previous “dino fuzz” finds) is any real vetting behind the find.? According to the news outlets, the authours seem pretty set on these structures being related to feathers in some way. No mention has been made of them being possible contaminants from where the animals died (i.e. plant material, or stains from parasites), or even a possible forgery (as it does come from Liaoning Province; which is well known for their forged fossils). Furthermore, the description of the find sounds much more like the “quill” like structures that are presumed to be on psittacosaurs, than it does the “dino fuzz” present on Sinosauropteryx.
Thankfully there have been a few voices of reason/skepticism out there.
Dr. Larry Witmer of Ohio University offerred some alternative possibilities:
…it is unclear at this point if Tianyulong‘s feather-like structures are part of the same evolutionary lineage as the feathers on today’s birds and the same lineage that yielded the proto-feathers on early theropods. Also, it’s possible that the Tianyulong feather-like structures really occurred under the skin, not outside it. That would change all these arguments, suggesting that the structures are collagen features in the skin, not feathery.
Additional caution came from Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles:
But Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who has written about the origin of feathers, said he doubts that feathers evolved outside of theropods and birds. Interpreting Tianyulong‘s filaments as early feathers is questionable because of their appearance, he said.
Moreover, Chiappe said, given the apparent lack of feathers in many dinosaur species, “I don’t see any reason why you’re going to conclude that feathers must have originated before the origin of dinosaurs or (at) about the same time.”
At this point I will withold my conclusions on this until I’ve read through the paper, and compared it with some of the other “feathered” dinosaurs.