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RE: Sinosauropteryx feathers?

At 09:31 PM 03/12/02 -0500, MariusRomanus@aol.com wrote:
I wonder if a MALE bird of paradise was to be fossilized, would those radically wild display plumes hidden deep beneath their regular old plumage be clearly preserved? Would we ever find the bird to begin with? My best educated guesses are "No"...

Well, I'm coming into this debate a bit late (having just returned from several weeks in Chile), but I am not sure that this is necessarily a good guess. First of all, you have to distinguish between those bird fossils that do not preserve any integumentary structures at all (the vast majority) and those which do. Of the latter, I would suspect that the larger remiges, rectrices and display plumes (if present) may well be more likely to fossilize than contour feathers which may be less robust - this is probably the case for Archaeopteryx. And of course there are many specimens (I gather) of Confuciusornis that clearly show remarkable long tail plumes on some individuals (presumably, though not necessarily, males or at least mature adults) but not on others. If this sort of thing can show up on a Cretaceous fossil I see no reason why it could not do so on a more recent one, given the appropriate conditions.

However, that is not - as I gather - really relevant to this issue. As I understand it the question is what kind of integumentary structures Sinosauropteryx had, and the suggestion is that the "protofeathers" we can see may have been replaced or augmented by "modern" feather types on other individuals. I suppose this is possible but if so it would be most extraordinary. We are not talking here about a few extra display feathers but an entirely different, basic class of feather otherwise only known for sure in clades that do not include Sinosauropteryx and that presumably represent a later stage in feather evolution. For the speculation given here to be correct we would have to assume not only that "modern" feathers appeared much more basally than is currently believed (which is certainly possible, but there is no evidence for it), and that these basic feather types were only present on certain individuals (something that we do not see on ANY living or fossil bird - I know of no bird in which only one sex has down or bristles, for example).

Of course an artist can do anything he likes; he can restore a feathered Triceratops if he wants to. However, I am not sure that it is helpful to our understanding of what a fossil creature may have been like (surely one purpose of restoration) to give it features that are not only unknown in the fossil (restoration would be impossible if you couldn't do that) but for which there is reasonable evidence suggesting that they were not present.

PS - As far as I know there are no known fossils of birds of paradise.

Ronald I. Orenstein Phone: (905) 820-7886
International Wildlife Coalition Fax/Modem: (905) 569-0116
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