January 20, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Questioning Another Dino-Bird

 

 

Was Wulong bohaiensis another feathered dinosaur? Or was it a bird like Archaeopteryx?

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Introduction

Another one-of-a-kind “feathered dinosaur,” Wulong bohaiensis, was found over a decade ago by a Chinese farmer. Its discovery now appears—some evolutionists claim—to be able to rewrite evolution theory. This is occurring just when some creationists were contemplating, or at least entertaining, the idea that some dinosaurs had feathers. Wulong, meaning “dancing dragon,” has been classified by evolutionists as a genus of microraptorine dromaeosaurid dinosaur. And yet the classification includes only one species— namely, the Chinese farmer’s specimen. This fact indicates just how different the discoverers believe Wulong bohaiensis appears compared to all other known “dino-birds.” The focus of the study of Wulong bohaiensis was to understand that “the anatomy and behavior of dromaeosaurids represents an important step in recovering the macroevolutionary history leading to the feathered dinosaurs of today.”[1]

This discovery of the fairly complete Wulong bohaiensis specimen in a peer-reviewed journal, The American Association for Anatomy, has already prompted much controversy.[2] The well-preserved fossil is an articulated skeleton preserved on a single slab uncovered from the Liaoning Province in China, one of the richest fossil deposits in the world.[3] Preservation in articulated form means that the bones were connected in a similar pattern to what they were in real life, in contrast to a set of broken bones scattered over a large area, as is more commonly encountered. The 25-page analysis of the find included careful documentation of the skeleton, but no details on the discovery and excavation – important factors used to determine a fossil’s authenticity.

Description

Wulong bohaiensis was covered with feathers, including a wing-like array on both arms and legs and two long plumes at the end of a long tail which was as long as its body.[4] All of these traits “we associate with adult birds”—not dinosaurs.[5] It also had several “important bird characteristics” which, lead author Ashley Poust claims, help to understand how “flight arose in the distant past.[6] [For problems with the origin of flight from land dinosaurs, see Illustra Media’s film Flight: The Genius of Birds.]

Wulong bohaiensis was larger than the common crow, yet smaller than a raven – a size similar to Archaeopteryx. Its small thin bones indicate it was a juvenile. If true, it was almost full-grown and may not have grown to be much larger.[7]

The creature had a narrow face like a bird filled with sharp teeth unlike birds today, but like some extinct birds. Archaeopteryx also had sharp teeth, as well as a long bony tail.[8] Physiologically, it looks very similar to Archaeopteryx, as shown in Figures 3 and 4. Also note that in Figures 1 and 2, both display the contorted death posture called opisthotonus, from the Greek “tonos,” meaning tightening, and “opistho,” meaning behind [see 23 Nov 2011]. This posture is common in bird and dinosaur fossils and indicates death by drowning. The latest thinking is that the opisthotonic posture is the post-mortem (not peri-mortem) result of the loosening or relaxing of the Ligamentum elasticum of a floating carcass buoyed by water, not necessarily directly caused by drowning or suffocation as originally thought.

Figure 1. Skeleton of Wulong bohaiensis was recovered from the Jiufotang Formation in China.

Note the “dinosaur death pose” indicative of suffocation. Compare this to Archaeopteryx below.

Figure 2. Skeleton of Archaeopteryx. Credit: Getty Images.

Notice again the “dinosaur death pose” which is assumed to be indicative of suffocation.

Figure 3. An artist’s rendering of what Wulong bohaiensis might have looked like.

Compare to a drawing of Archaeopteryx below. Given two different artists and two different fossils, the artists’ conceptions are enormously similar. I would expect two artists would produce similar differences even if the source of the drawing was the same fossil because given the condition of most fossils artists usually have a large amount of artistic license!

Figure 4. Artist’s rendering of Archaeopteryx. Credit: DinosaurPictures.org.

In appearance, Wulong bohaiensis looks very much like an Archaeopteryx. Both are classified in Dromaeosauridae, (meaning ‘running lizards’) a family of supposedly-feathered theropod dinosaurs. Aside from some bone structures, what clear evidence exists that Wulong bohaiensis was even a dinosaur, specifically closely related to the dinosaur Velociraptor?[9] One reference claimed the “ancient animal was one of the earliest relatives of Velociraptor,” thereby asserting that one of its descendants evolved into the feared Velociraptor popularized in Jurassic Park.[10]

Archaeopteryx is “generally accepted by paleontologists and reference books as the oldest known bird (member of the group Avialae) and widely viewed as an excellent candidate for a transitional form between non-avian dinosaurs and birds.”[11] Likewise, Wulong bohaiensis is seen as a transitional form because of its similarity to Archaeopteryx. Much debate still exists about the classification of Archaeopteryx, among evolutionists as well as creationists. Likewise, the same concerns exist about the classification of Wulong bohaiensis.

Mosaic Juveniles vs Evolution

If we look at the physical evidence only, and ignore the evolutionary assumptions about what these creatures evolved from and what they are evolving into, the conclusion is clear: they are both mosaic creatures, like the duckbilled platypus and many other animals, including Anchiornis [1 Oct 2009], Xiaotingia, and Aurornis.[12] This helps us separate the actual observational evidence from the imaginative speculations as discussed below.

The bones indicate that the newly-claimed “dinosaur” was a juvenile. This interpretation comes from the proposal that at least some dinosaurs were developing very mature-looking feathers well before they became adults. Yet many birds mature rapidly and often don’t grow their adult plumage until well after they are full-sized. Showy feathers, especially those used for mating, are particularly likely to be delayed. The paleontologists judged Wulong bohaiensis to be an immature dinosaur, even though it had two long feathers extending beyond the tip of its tail like a bird.

Evolutionary Spin

Phylogenetic analysis placed the Wulong specimen within a monophyletic group, the Microraptorinae. The specimen is small and exhibits osteological markers of immaturity identified in other archosaurs, such as bone texture and lack of fusion. Wulong’s closest well-known relative would have been Microraptor, a genus of small, four-winged paravian dinosaurs [16 Nov 2005].

Wulong bohaiensis is consistently described as a dinosaur by the secular press. But it’s an usual dinosaur, they say, that reveals the “connection between birds and dinosaurs.” Oddly, the reports never say what the specific connection is.[13] Poust says its importance is due to the fact that “feathered dinosaurs … have revitalized our thinking about bird origins and dinosaurian behavior.”[14] Poust et al. do not claim it evolved from a dinosaur (the current evolutionary consensus belief). Instead, they point out ways that their fossil differs from dinosaurs.[15]

Here’s another problem with the evolutionary narrative. Birds are reported to have evolved from dinosaurs 150 million years ago, but the paleontologists assign a date of origin of Wulong bohaiensis as 120 million years. According to these dates, this bird had 30 million years to perfect its flying skills! So why is it still called a dinosaur?[16] Conversely, the Science News report states that Wulong bohaiensis is “one of the earliest relatives of Velociraptor, the famous dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that lived approximately 75 million[17] years ago.” This implies that descendants of this bird evolved into a dinosaur![18] The new fossil was also claimed to have lived twice as long ago as T. rex.

Bone Analysis

The specimen has feathers on its limbs and a tail typical of adult birds, but it had other features that make me think it was a juvenile or young adult, including osteological markers such as bone texture and lack of fusion. Histologically, samples of the tibia, fibula, and humerus compared with new samples from the closely-related and osteologically-mature Sinornithosaurus show both specimens to be young and still growing at death. The scientists estimate an age for the Wulong bohaiensis specimen of about 1 year.[19] The bone tissue was that of an actively growing animal. It lacked the external fundamental system, a structure on the outside of the bone that vertebrates form when full-size. A concern about feathers involving

feather types, include filamentous feathers, pennaceous primaries, and long rectrices, establishing that their growth preceded skeletal maturity and full adult size in some dromaeosaurids. Macroscopic signs of maturity developed after the first year, but before cessation of growth, demonstrating that nonhistological indicators of adulthood may be misleading when applied to dromaeosaurids.[20]

Mixed Messages

The commentaries on the fossil give mixed and confusing messages. Is the fossil a dinosaur or a bird, or a dinosaur in the process of evolving into a bird? Most commentators referred to the new fossil as a dinosaur, writing “New Dinosaur Discovered in China Shows Dinosaurs Grew Up Differently from Birds.” Thus, it is a dinosaur. Another commentary says, “Studying specimens like this not only shows us the sometimes surprising paths that ancient life has taken, but also allows us to test ideas about how important bird characteristics, including flight, arose in the distant past.” Thus, it is a bird.

To evolutionists, the discovery is significant not only because it describes a dinosaur that is new to science, but also because it allegedly shows a connection between birds and dinosaurs. This “one-of-a-kind specimen preserves feathers and bones that provide new information about how dinosaurs grew and how they differed from birds,” we are told. The term dinosaur is likely used to describe this very bird-like animal in order to support the idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds. Evolutionists latch onto this fossil to spin their narrative because no other likelier candidate exists. All the other possibilities are even less feasible.

A Forgery?

One other possibility is Wulong bohaiensis is one of the “flood of ‘improved,’ reconfigured and composite” fossils that have caused major problems in defending various theories about evolution.[21] What some describe as a “flood of sham fossils pouring out of China” has with good reason caused no small number of persons to be skeptical of all new fossil finds from that country.[22] Nature reported the withdrawal of more than 70 papers by Chinese authors whose research was questionable. In 2003, fossil bird expert Alan Feduccia, referring to the famous ‘feathered dinosaur’ fossil widely touted by National Geographic that turned out to be a fake, stated

Archaeoraptor is just the tip of the iceberg. There are scores of fake fossils out there, and they have cast a dark shadow over the whole field. When you go to these fossil shows, it’s difficult to tell which ones are faked and which ones are not.[23]

In 2010, paleontologist Jiang Da-yong warned that the “fake fossil problem has become very, very serious” and concluded that “more than 80% of marine reptile specimens now on display in Chinese museums” may be fakes or doctored fossils.[24]

Conclusion: Wulong bohaiensis is of the Extinct Archaeopteryx ‘Kind’

The preceding discussion gives reasons to doubt the evolutionary narrative imposed on this fossil. As I have not personally examined the fossils of either Archaeopteryx or Wulong bohaiensis, I can only judge from the publicly available reports. Nonetheless, I have raised some questions that need to be answered, assuming Wulong is not a forgery. I realize that Archaeopteryx is still debated among the experts who have studied the original fossils. Nevertheless, my feeling is that Wulong bohaiensis is one of many varieties of “mosaic” birds that had theropod-like traits, teeth, leg feathers and long tails akin to Archaeopteryx. These include Anchiornis, Xiaotingia, and Aurornis. In my thinking, they belong to a Genesis ‘kind’ or taxonomic family that had considerable variety. They did not evolve from another kind of animal, nor were they evolving into another kind of animal. All of the members of the Archaeopteryx kind became extinct with the dinosaurs, many in conditions that suggest drowning.

References

[1] Poust, Ashley W., Chunling Gao, David J. Varricchio, Jianlin Wu, and Fengjiao Zhang. 2020. A new microraptorine theropod from the Jehol Biota and growth in early dromaeosaurids. American Association for Anatomy, January 15. Emphasis added.
[2] Poust et al., 2020.
[3] Majumder, Bhaswati Guha. 2020. New feathered dinosaur shows dinosaurs grew up differently from birds. New Scientist, January 15. See also press release from the San Diego Natural History Museum.
[4] Poust 2020, pp. 18-19.
[5] Lazaro, Enrico de. 2020. “Previous New Feathered Dinosaur Species Identified in China.” Science News.
[6] Majumder, 2020.
[7] Handelsman, Rebecca. 2020. New dinosaur discovered in China shows dinosaurs grew up differently from birds. EurekAlert, January 15.
[8] Mayr, G.; Phol, B.; Hartman, S.; Peters, D. S. 2007. “The tenth skeletal specimen of Archaeopteryx.” Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society149: 97–116.
[9] Lazaro, 2020.
[10] Majumder, 2020.
[11] Xu, X; You, H; Du, K; Han, F. 2011. “An Archaeopteryx-like theropod from China and the origin of Avialae.” Nature, 475(7357): 465–470, July 28.
[12] Godefroit, Pascal; Cau, Andrea; Hu, Dong-Yu; Escuillié, François; Wu, Wenhao; Dyke, Gareth. 2013. “A Jurassic avialan dinosaur from China resolves the early phylogenetic history of birds.” Nature, 498(7454): 359–362.
[13] New dinosaur mark in China reveals dinosaurs grew up otherwise from birds, Invest Records, January 16, 2020.
[14] Poust 2020, p. 4.
[15] Poust 2020. pp. 13, 14, 19, 21, and  23.
[16] Vergano, Dan. 2014. Birds Evolved From Dinosaurs Slowly—Then Took Off: An 80-million-year transition was capped with a burst of feathered diversity. National Geographic Magazine, Sept 25.
[17] Godefroit, Pascal; Currie, Philip J.; Li, Hong; Shang, Chang Yong; Dong, Zhi-ming. 2008. “A new species of Velociraptor (Dinosauria: Dromaeosauridae) from the Upper Cretaceous of northern China.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology28(2): 432–438.
[18] Lazaro, 2020.
[19] Poust 2020.
[20] Poust 2020. Emphasis added.
[21] Stone, Richard. 2010. “Altering the Past: China’s Faked Fossils Problem.” Science, 330: 1740-1741, p. 1740, December 24.
[22] Balter, Michael. 2013. “Authenticity of China’s Fabulous Fossils Gets New Scrutiny.” Science, 340: 1153-1154, p. 1154, June 7.
[23] Feduccia, Alan. 2003. “Discover Dialogue: Ornithologist and evolutionary biologist Alan Feduccia plucking apart the Dino-Birds.” Discover Magazine, 24(2): 16, February.
[24] Stone, 2010, p. 1740.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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