John E. Rylander (rylander@prolexia.com)
Tue, 23 Jun 1998 15:51:46 -0500

Interesting articles from Nature Magazine.


(Remember to cut and paste the URL as one line, no carriage return in the
middle. This is only the press release -- more is at the site.)


Or see their home page, http://www.nature.com/.


Any remaining doubts that birds and dinosaurs have an intimate phylogenetic
relationship should be laid to rest by a report on p753, from Philip Currie
of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada and his
colleagues Ji Qiang and Ji Shu-an of the National Geological Museum of
China, Beijing, China, and Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural
History, New York.

They describe two species of theropod dinosaur from China dinosaurs with
feathers. One creature, Protarchaeopteryx, has already been described in a
preliminary report: this is the first full-length treatment. Similar in many
respects to the dinosaur Velociraptor, it had a switch of feathers at the
end of its tail.

The other creature, named in the paper for the first time, has feathers on
its tail as well as on its forearms. This animal falls on the family tree
somewhere between Velociraptor and Protarchaeopteryx on the one hand, and
the historically important fossil bird Archaeopteryx on the other.

It is unlikely that either of the feathered dinosaurs could have flown: the
function of the feathers will be a matter of lively speculation. That aside,
the finding demonstrates that the origin of feathers preceded the origin of
birds and of bird flight. It also demonstrates that theropod dinosaurs such
as Velociraptor were the closest extinct relatives to birds.

Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley, discusses the
research in an accompanying News and Views article.

The fossils were unveiled at a press conference at the National Geographic
Society, 1600 M Street NW, Washington DC, at 10.30am EDT Tuesday 23 June.