Saturday, 18 July 2015

Winged Transitional Dinosaur Puts Creationists in a Flap

An artist’s impression of Zhenyuanlong suni.

Image credit: Chuang Zhao.
A large, short-armed, winged dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Cretaceous of China and its implications for feather evolution : Scientific Reports

Another bad week for creationism as yet more of those 'non-existent' transitional fossils are found. This time, yet another of those feathered dinosaur fossils showing the evolution of birds from velociraptor dinosaurs that creationism is required to pretend didn't happen because it proves the biblical/qur'anic creation myth is laughably naive and based on ignorant guesses.

This one was found, like so many of these recent discoveries, was found in the Liaoning Province in northeastern China:

Zhenyuanlong suni.

Image credit: Junchang Lü / Stephen L. Brusatte.
The famous ‘feathered dinosaurs’ from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning Province, northeastern China, include several dromaeosaurids, which are among the closest relatives of birds. Most of these are small-bodied taxa with long arms and broad wings comprised of vaned feathers, but a single specimen (the holotype of Tianyuraptor) belongs to a much larger individual with reduced forelimbs, which unfortunately lacks any preserved integument. We describe a new specimen of large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid, which we designate as a new genus and species, Zhenyuanlong suni. The integument is well preserved and provides the first evidence of feather morphologies and distribution in a short-armed (and probably non-volant) dromaeosaurid, indicating that these rare and aberrant taxa had large wings consisting of pennaceous feathers on the arms and long pennaceous feathers on the tail very similar to their smaller and longer-armed relatives, but potentially lacked vaned feathers on the legs. Zhenyuanlong adds yet more diversity to the Liaoning dromaeosaurid fauna, helps further reveal a distinct short-armed bauplan among dromaeosaurids, and illuminates previously-unrecognized homoplasy that complicates dromaeosaurid phylogeny and suggests that the Liaoning taxa may not have formed their own clade.

A large, short-armed, winged dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Cretaceous of China and its implications for feather evolution.
Junchang Lü & Stephen L. Brusatte
Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 11775 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep11775

Although this comparatively large close relative of the velociraptors had wings which were probably too short for powered flight it had more complex feathers than any other so far found, having several layers, including quilled feathers similar to those of an eagle and normally found in modern flying birds. There is now no doubt at all that these feathered dinosaurs that are being discovered in China mark the evolutionary transition between theropods and the avian order. In fact, this transition appears to have been so smooth that there is no real division between these proto-avian reptiles and true birds; birds should thus be regarded as modern dinosaurs.

Most of the dinosaurs became extinct, probably following a meteor strike about 66 million years ago, but some survived, maybe because they, like the early mammals, were warm-blooded and could regulate their heat loss with feathers which served the same function as fur in mammals. Where these competitors with mammals were to excell was in their ability to exploit the air and the trees. There was same overlap, of course, but the mammals inherited the land; birds inherited the sky.

Creationists, because they must stick to their denialism, are denied the pleasure of watching swifts and eagles; doves and peregrines and skeins of geese and understand that they are watching evolved dinosaurs which, like us, survived the great K-T extinction. And all so they can imagine they have a magic invisible friend.

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