It flew, and looks like a modern shorebird, but it pushes back the evolution of birds from dinosaurs by millions of years. Then there’s that unicorn thing.
“Feathery fossils peg early birds to even earlier date,” reads a headline on the BBC News. Colorful artwork of a pretty bird (pretty modern looking, that is) begins the story:
Scientists in China have described a new species of early bird, from two fossils with intact plumage dating to 130 million years ago.
Based on the age of the surrounding rocks, this is the earliest known member of the clade that produced today’s birds: Ornithuromorpha.
It pushes back the branching-out of this evolutionary group by at least five million years.
The little bird appears to have been a wader, capable of nimble flight.
The article claims, without citing evidence, that dinosaurs first began to evolve 150 million years ago. In 20 million years, then, that land-dwelling dinosaur gave rise to a shore bird with bone structures that suggest “good manoeuvrability in the air.”
Science Magazine says that this species, dubbed Archaeornithura, looks modern, complete with wishbone and alula:
Each exquisitely preserved specimen has the telltale traits of a modern bird: fan-shaped tail feathers, highly fused bones at the ends of the wings, and the U-shaped wishbone familiar to anyone who has carved a roast chicken. The fossils even have a small projection on the front edge of their wings—known to boost maneuverability during flight—that is remarkably similar to that of today’s birds.
Evolutionists are debating the meaning of this fossil, and where it fits in the bird family tree. Several flight adaptations evident in the bones indicate that “key traits, the new fossils show, arose near the dawn of bird evolution.” And it had long legs suitable for wading. All this evolving had to happen “after Archaeopteryx but before 130 million years ago.” If it weren’t for the assumed age, it seems an unbiased observer would just call this a bird.
But wait—there’s more! Another “feathered dinosaur” fossil, reported by Mr. Dino-Bird himself, Xing Xu of China, looks like a bat. Unbelievable, but true: Michael Balter reports in Science Magazine, “Early dinosaur may have flown like a bat.” Instead of feathers, it may have had membranes between its fingers. If it flew (which is controversial), it probably glided instead of flapping muscle-powered wings, as the artist’s representation suggests. Of all the fossils that have been “revolutionizing our understanding of bird evolution,” Xu (who decided to give the fossil a really short name – Yi qi – or “strange wing”) thinks this one is the most important of the last decade.
Nature doesn’t know what to say. It couldn’t be on the path to birds, because it lacked feathers. But it’s not a pterosaur or a bat, either; it poses a real “flight puzzle.” What’s more, it has a sesamoid wrist bone something like the panda’s thumb. Maybe it’s a unicorn, the editors of Nature surmise. No kidding. “For a feathered dinosaur to have traded feathers for a membrane in an aerofoil is something nobody could have predicted,” the editors conclude. “Whether or not it is a unicorn has yet to be determined.”
If we can rule out some kind of hoaxing going on in the back rooms of the Xing Xu warehouse, then we cannot ignore the distinct possibility that God in his foreknowledge decided to play tricks on evolutionists. Neither of these fossils is helping their simplistic story of dinosaurs becoming birds. We can rub it in a little. “What? You guys believe in unicorns?” we should tease. “Maybe it’s Convergent Evolution!”