Keeping handy some old posts on bird evolution, as we discuss it in Ornithology class this week.

The Waterthrush Blog

BBC Science Reporter James Morgan provided a fascinating story this week about the latest in a string of feathered dinosaur fossils from Liaoning Province in China. This one, named Epidexipteryx by lead researchers Fucheng Zhang and Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is unusual for a couple of reasons.

Artist’s conception of Epidexipteryx by Z. Chuang

First, it had a typical maniraptor theropod body plan: a pigeon-sized, agile runner with three claws on its grasping forearms and lots of needle-sharp teeth. It was also covered with “protofeathers” – hairlike feathers without the central shaft and barb structure seen in modern contour feathers. But its tail was shortened to a stub and adorned with four elongated, shafted “proper” tail feathers. Paleontologists say these tail feathers – which seem quite obviously to have had some function in display – have never been described in a fossil animal that didn’t…

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