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My New Scientist story is on-line this morning at
Epidexipteryx is a fascinating critter. I've corresponded with the authors,
and wasn't able to get all the details into my story, so I'll add a few bits
This comes from the same fossil beds as Pedopenna ("feather foot") and
Epidendrosaurus, which are now radiometrically dated at 152-168 million years.
The geology is pretty complex, and I think the dates are still controversial,
but this definitely is an older fauna than the Jehol, and if the dating is
right probably is older than Archaeopteryx (with the caveat that Archaeopteryx
itself is not firmly dated on a radiometric scale).
So what we're seeing are little feathered dinosaurs, but nothing yet with
flight feathers or true wings, in the sense they could be used for flight or
even gliding. Obviously finding more fossils is very very important, and I'm
sure IVPP is working on that. Judging from what has come out so far, the
Daohugou either is not as fossil-rich as the Jehol deposits or they haven't
found the mother lode of fossils.
Zhang et al say the tail is complete and its vertebrae differ from those of
Epidendrosaurus, supporting the idea the two are different. It would obviously
be very nice to have more fossils to get growth sequences of the two. There are
very faint feather impressions on Epidendrosaurus, and downy feather
impressions from the whole body of Epidexipteryx, not just on the shoulders
where they are clearest in the photos. Thus the downy covering on the
THey also say its claws show it could climb, probably about as well as
All of which leaves us with a diverse range of little feathered dinosaurs
closely related to birds running around the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous.
The tail display feathers show internal structures somewhat similar to - but
significantly different from - flight feathers. So it looks like evolution was
experimenting with different forms of the things that eventually became what we
recognize as feathers. Maybe Alan Brush can weigh in with his observations when
he has a chance to study the paper more carefully.
Anyway, it's a wonderful fossil, and I am looking forward to seeing more.
Jeff Hecht, science and technology writer
Boston Correspondent, New Scientist magazine
525 Auburn St., Auburndale, MA 02466 USA
V 617-965-3834 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org