March 25, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Birds with Modern Traits Flew Over Dinosaurs

Several aspects of the dinosaur-to-bird evolution don’t make sense in the light of evolution.

Museums and park displays show the public dioramas of dinosaurs going extinct 65 million years ago. After the asteroid strike (or volcanoes) did in the dinosaurs, birds really took off, diversifying into the great variety of birds we have today. Does this match the evidence? First, the news.

Ancient Birds Out of the Egg Running (University of Hong Kong). A species of enantiornithine (“other-bird”) birds said to date from 125 million Darwin Years ago appears to have been ready to follow its mother after hatching. Such “precocial” hatchlings are seen in chickens and ducks today, while “altricial” birds like eagles and egrets nurture their hatchlings in the nest for days or weeks. In Nature Scientific Reports, Thomas Kaye, Michael Pittman and team announce that a “Fully fledged enantiornithine hatchling … supports precocial nesting behavior.” Fully fledged means that the 3cm-long chick already had a coat of feathers, a sign that it was hatched ready to move.

This discovery via new technology demonstrates that some early birds adopted a precocial breeding strategy just like modern birds. Thus, in the time of the dinosaurs, some enantiornithine bird babies had the means to avoid the dangers of Mesozoic life perhaps by following their parents or moving around themselves. “One of the feathers discovered was of a substantial size and preserves features seen in other hatchlings. It indicates that our hatchling had reasonably well-developed flight feathers at the time of birth”, says Jesús Marugán-Lobón, a co-author from the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid, Spain (Figs. 2B, 4). This and other “illuminating” discoveries are adding to our knowledge of ancient life with details surviving in the fossil record that were never thought possible even a couple decades ago.

The imaging technique of Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence they used revealed “previously unseen elemental maps of soft tissue residues” within the feather filaments, the paper states. Enantiornithine birds, some of which had teeth and lacked beaks, disappeared with the dinosaurs, but were clearly capable of flight as early as Archaeopteryx, said to be the oldest bird at 150 million years.

Oldest egg fossil discovered inside ancient mama bird (USA Today). Several news outlets reported the finding of an egg still inside its mother’s body. Eggs and medullary bone from which the shells arise are only present for short periods of time, so finding an egg intact surprised the paleontologists. The fossil, found in China, was named Avimaia Schweitzerae, named after Mary Schweitzer “for her ground-breaking works on MB [medullary bone] and for her role in establishing the field of molecular paleontology.” Schweitzer is also well known for having found a number of striking cases of soft tissue preservation in dinosaurs.

The paper in Nature Communications  suggests that this Lower Cretaceous specimen contains a few preserved remnants of primordial biological material:

Fragments of the shell membrane and cuticle are both preserved. SEM reveals that the cuticle consists of nanostructures resembling those found in neornithine eggs adapted for infection-prone environments, which are hypothesized to represent the ancestral avian condition. The femur preserves small amounts of probable medullary bone, a tissue found today only in reproductively active female birds. To our knowledge, no other occurrence of Mesozoic medullary bone is associated with indications of reproductive activity, such as a preserved egg, making our identification unique, and strongly supported….

An additional dark brown layer is preserved in some regions (Fig. 2b). SEM and EDS indicate this layer is enriched in phosphorus compared to the rest of the eggshell, suggesting this represents part of the eggshell cuticle.

Nevertheless, in this specimen, “very few of the original organic components are preserved,” the authors say.

Take your Darwin glasses off and look at their story with clear reason, in light of the evidence. The date of the little precocial chick fossil (125 million Darwin Years) is twice as long as the date of the alleged dinosaur-killing asteroid (65 million Darwin Years). Archaeopteryx is said to be another 25 million years older. For all that time, there were birds flying over the heads of the great dinosaurs. Whether you accept that some land-roaming dinosaurs had “feathers” or not, this bird tale should strike you as puzzling:

  • Where are the ancestors? Flight just appears, fully functional.
  • A wide variety of birds existed before the alleged extinction event: ones that look like ducks, gulls and shorebirds.
  • The dinosaur-era birds display many of the same behaviors and traits of modern birds.
  • Original molecules from these birds can be found in the fossils. How could they last 125 million years?
  • Delicate, time-sensitive impressions (e.g., medullary bone) are present. Why is it pristine after so long?
  • How did these birds become fossilized so quickly that delicate tissues are still present?

Does the origin of birds make sense in light of evolution? No. You can’t just look at a flying bird without ancestors and sigh, “Stuff happens.” But the facts about birds, both living and fossilized, make sense in light of creation.

 

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Categories: Birds, Dinosaurs, Fossils

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