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Re: 'real feathers'

Perhaps I am missing something, but it strikes me that this discussion
about a "real" feather misses the point.  It surely doesn't matter what we
define a feather to be.  What DOES matter to the Big Questions of what
birds evolved from and at what point did "birdlike" character states appear
is the question of homology.  For example, one of the things we really want
to know about the epidermal structures on Sinosauropteryx - whatever you
choose to call them - is, are they homologous to the feathers in modern
birds or were they independently derived?

By this I mean, of course, not whether they are made of keratin (after all,
our fingernails and the horns of a rhinoceros are made of keratin, but that
doesn't make us (or rhinos) birds), but whether the structures as seen in
Sinosauropteryx share common features with feathers not found in other
keratinous epidermal structures, and whether these features are the result
of their being present in their common ancestor.

Of course, answering these questions is the tricky part - but the
nomenclature of the structures themselves has little or nothing to do with
finding those answers.
Ronald I. Orenstein                           Phone: (905) 820-7886
International Wildlife Coalition              Fax/Modem: (905) 569-0116
1825 Shady Creek Court                 
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 3W2          mailto:ornstn@inforamp.net