Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids

Abstract

Tyrannosauroids are one of the last and the most successful large-bodied predatory dinosaur groups1,2,3,4,5, but their early history remains poorly understood. Here we report a new basal tyrannosauroid from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation of western Liaoning, China, which is small and gracile and has relatively long arms with three-fingered hands. The new taxon is the earliest known unquestionable tyrannosauroid found so far6,7,8,9. It shows a mosaic of characters, including a derived cranial structure resembling that of derived tyrannosauroids1,2,3,4,5 and a primitive postcranial skeleton similar to basal coelurosaurians. One of the specimens also preserves a filamentous integumentary covering similar to that of other coelurosaurian theropods from western Liaoning. This provides the first direct fossil evidence that tyrannosauroids had protofeathers.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Dilong paradoxus.
Figure 2: IVPP V11579.
Figure 3: Integumentary structures of IVPP V11579.

References

  1. 1

    Holtz, T. R. Jr in Mesozoic Vertebrate Life (eds Carpenter, K. & Tanke, D.) 64–83 (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001)

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Currie, P. J., Hurum, J. H. & Sabath, K. Skull structure and evolution in tyrannosaurid dinosaurs. Acta Palaeontol. Pol. 48, 227–234 (2003)

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Currie, P. J. Cranial anatomy of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada. Acta Palaeontol. Pol. 48, 191–226 (2003)

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Hurum, J. H. & Sabath, K. Giant theropod dinosaurs from Asia and North America: skulls of Tarbosaurus bataar and Tyrannosaurus rex compared. Acta Palaeontol. Pol. 48, 161–190 (2003)

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Brochu, C. A. Osteology of Tyrannosaurus rex: insights from a nearly complete skeleton and high-resolution computed tomographic analysis of the skull. J. Vertebr. Paleontol. Mem. 7, 1–138 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Buffetaut, E., Suteethorn, V. & Tong, H. The earliest known tyrannosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Thailand. Nature 381, 689–691 (1996)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Manabe, M. The early evolution of Tyrannosauridae in Asia. J. Paleontol. 73, 1176–1178 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Hutt, S., Naish, D., Martill, D. M., Barker, M. J. & Newbery, P. A preliminary account of a new tyrannosauroid theropod from the Wessex Formation (Early Cretaceous) of southern England. Cretaceous Res. 22, 227–242 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Rauhut, O. W. M. A tyrannosauroid dinosaur from the Upper Jurassic of Portugal. Palaeontology 46, 903–910 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Swisher, C. et al. Further support for a Cretaceous age for the feathered-dinosaur beds of Liaoning, China: new 40Ar/39Ar dating of the Yixian and Tuchengzi formations. Chin. Sci. Bull. 46, 2009–2013 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Erickson, G. M. et al. Gigantism and comparative life history of Tyrannosaurus rex. Nature 430, 772–775 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Molnar, R. E. The cranial morphology of Tyrannosaurus rex. Palaeontographica A 217, 137–176 (1991)

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Currie, P. J. & Dong, Z. New information on Shanshanosaurus huoyanshanensis, a juvenile tyrannosaurid (Theropoda, Dinosauria) from the Late Cretaceous of China. Can. J. Earth Sci. 38, 1729–1737 (2001)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Sampson, S. D. et al. Predatory dinosaur remains from Madagascar: implications for the Cretaceous biogeography of Gondwana. Science 280, 1048–1051 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Xu, X. Deinonychosaurian Fossils from the Jehol Group of Western Liaoning and the Coelurosaurian Evolution Thesis, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing (2002)

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Currie, P. J. New information on the anatomy and relationships of Dromaeosaurus albertensis (Dinosauria: Theropoda). J. Vertebr. Paleontol. 15, 576–591 (1995)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Madsen, J. H. Allosaurus fragilis: a revised osteology. Utah Geol. Min. Surv. Bull. 109, 1–163 (1976)

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Gauthier, J. in The Origin of Birds and the Evolution of Flight (ed. Padian, K.) 1–55 (California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, 1986)

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Holtz, T. R. The arctometatarsalian pes, an unusual structure of the metatarsus of Cretaceous Theropoda (Dinosauria: Saurischia). J. Vertebr. Paleontol. 14, 480–519 (1995)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Currie, P. J. Allometric growth in tyrannosaurids (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous of North America and Asia. Can. J. Earth Sci. 40, 651–665 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Holtz, T. R. Jr A new phylogeny of the carnivorous dinosaurs. Gaia 15, 5–61 (2000)

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Xu, X., Zhou, H. H. & Prum, R. O. Branched integumental structures in Sinornithosaurus and the origin of feathers. Nature 410, 200–204 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Carr, T. D. Craniofacial ontogeny in Tyrannosauridae (Dinosauria, Theropoda). J. Vertebr. Paleontol. 19, 497–520 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Hwang, S. H., Norell, M. A., Ji, Q. & Gao, K. New specimens of Microraptor zhaoianus (Theropoda: Dromaeosauridae) from northeastern China. Am. Mus. Novit. 3381, 1–44 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Holtz, T. R. The phylogenetic position of the Tyrannosauridae: implications for the theropod systematics. J. Paleontol. 68, 1100–1117 (1994)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Xu, X., Norell, M. A., Wang, X. L., Makovicky, P. J. & Wu, X. C. A basal troodontid from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature 415, 780–784 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Sereno, P. C. The evolution of dinosaurs. Science 284, 2137–2147 (1999)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Martin, L. D. & Czerkas, S. A. The fossil record of feather evolution in the Mesozoic. Am. Zool. 40, 687–694 (2000)

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Spinage, C. Elephants (T. & A.D. Poyser, London, 1994)

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Chen, P. J., Dong, Z. M. & Zhen, S. N. An exceptionally well-preserved theropod dinosaur from the Yixian Formation of China. Nature 391, 147–152 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank T. Holtz, O. Rauhut and X.-C. Wu for critical comments on the manuscript; Z. H. Zhou, Z. L. Tang, Y. Q. Wang, Y. Li, H. J. Wang, Y. L. Huo, H. Q. Shou, X.Z. Liu, Q. Cao, W. Chen, J. C. Lu and C. Li for their contribution in the field; H. J. Wang, J. M. Yang, G. H. Cui and X. Q. Ding for preparing the specimens; and R. S. Li, J. L. Huang and M. W. Yang for illustrations. The study was supported by the Special Funds for Major State Basic Research Projects of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Geographic Society, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation of the USA and the American Museum of Natural History.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xing Xu or Mark A. Norell.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Measurements of selected elements in the available specimens; Ontogenetic assessments for the available specimens; Cladistic analysis for evaluating the phylogenetic position of Dilong; Tyrannosauroid synapomorphies (DOC 110 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Xu, X., Norell, M., Kuang, X. et al. Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids. Nature 431, 680–684 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02855

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.