March 15, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

“This Is a Problem”: Dino-Feather Story Gets Scaly

Just when proponents of dinosaur-to-bird evolution were getting agreement on their story, along came Juravenator.  Announced in Nature,1 this new dinosaur fossil from Germany is dated later than the earliest alleged “feathered dinosaur,” but had no feathers.  The finely-preserved specimen, in the same Solnhofen limestone that preserved Archaeopteryx (dated 2-3 million years later), had clear impressions of scales.  Commenting on this find, Xing Xu in the same issue of Nature2 explained why this fossil disturbs the simple line from scales to feathers:

The evolution of biological structures must be studied within an evolutionary framework.  In the case of feathers, a robust theropod phylogeny is the basis for reconstructing the sequence in which feathers evolved [sic].  The distribution of various feather morphologies on the currently accepted phylogeny suggests that simple, filamentous feathers first evolved no later than the earliest stage of coelurosaurian evolution.  More complex feathers with a thick central shaft and rigid symmetrical vanes on either side appeared early in the evolution of the coelurosaurian group Maniraptora; and feathers with aerodynamic features, such as a curved shaft and asymmetrical vanes, appeared within the maniraptors but before the origin of birds.  This inferred sequence of events is supported independently by developmental data.  Gohlich and Chiappe place Juravenator within the Compsognathidae, a group that is ‘basal’ in the coelurosaurian tree (Fig. 1).  So Juravenator should bear filamentous feathers. But it seems to be a scaled animal, at least on the tail and hind legs.
    Why, then, does a member of a feathered dinosaur family [sic] bear scales?  The authors’ answer is straightforward: feather evolution, they say, is more complex than we thought. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

It’s so complex, in fact, that in order to maintain the phylogeny, scientists may have to believe that feathers and scales may have evolved and re-evolved more than once.  Xu continues, “It would not be surprising [sic] if feathers were lost and scaly skin re-evolved in some basal coelurosaurian species, or if feathers evolved several times independently early in coelurosaurian evolution.”  Xu opts for the possibility that the discoverers misclassified Juravenator; perhaps it belongs deeper in the evolutionary tree, before the first feathers appeared.  Keeping a positive outlook, he says that the story of “early feather evolution” has been “enriched” by this find, whatever the explanation.  Since the fossil record is poor to begin with, “Juravenator may complicate the picture, but it makes it more complete and realistic.”
    See also the popular press on this new dinosaur: National Geographic, Live Science and MSNBC News.  Bjorn Carey invoked “convergent evolution” in his LiveScience article, and quoted Chiappe saying that he didn’t have a precise explanation: “We see it as a red flag that says ‘maybe you guys have been interpreting the evolution of feathers in too simple a way.  Maybe things are more complex.”  In the Reuters story published on MSNBC, Gohlich told reporters, “Now we have a little dinosaur that belongs to coelurosaurs that does not show feathers.  This is a problem.”


1Gohlich and Chiappe, “A new carnivorous dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Solnhofen archipelago,” Nature 440, 329-332 (16 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04579; Received 1 September 2005; ; Accepted 10 January 2006.
2Xing Xu, “Palaeontology: Scales, feathers and dinosaurs,” Nature 440, 287-288 (16 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/440287a.

Problem?  What problem?  Scales are scales, and feathers are feathers.  Dinosaurs are dinosaurs, and birds are birds.  Before, evolutionists wanted us to believe that scales, a skin feature, evolved into feathers that are totally different and embedded beneath the skin.  They expected us to believe there was a straight line of descent from gray wrinkles on a dinosaur into the colorful, aerodynamic, exquisitely-designed feathers of acrobatic swifts and high-diving cormorants.  They asked us to believe that birds co-opted what appeared to be “integumentary structures” of doubtful utility on the legs and tails of some dinosaurs and turned them into flying wonders, complete with interlocking hooks and barbules that are lightweight, water-resistant and extremely adaptable (compare doves and penguins).  They expected us to believe that at the same time feathers evolved, dinosaurs transformed all their internal organs and completely redesigned their lungs and most other bodily systems.  One only has a “problem” when one has to keep telling new lies to back up old ones.  Check out the whopper Mark Looy found at Chicago’s Field Museum (see AIG report): the $17 million “Evolving Planet” exhibit triumphantly announces to unsuspecting children, “Birds Are Dinosaurs.”  Maybe some day museums will be realizing that evolutionists are dinosaurs, too (see Tom Weller illustrations).

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Categories: Biology, Birds, Dinosaurs, Fossils

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