A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers

Abstract

Recent coelurosaurian discoveries have greatly enriched our knowledge of the transition from dinosaurs to birds, but all reported taxa close to this transition are from relatively well known coelurosaurian groups1,2,3. Here we report a new basal avialan, Epidexipteryx hui gen. et sp. nov., from the Middle to Late Jurassic of Inner Mongolia, China. This new species is characterized by an unexpected combination of characters seen in several different theropod groups, particularly the Oviraptorosauria. Phylogenetic analysis shows it to be the sister taxon to Epidendrosaurus4,5, forming a new clade at the base of Avialae6. Epidexipteryx also possesses two pairs of elongate ribbon-like tail feathers, and its limbs lack contour feathers for flight. This finding shows that a member of the avialan lineage experimented with integumentary ornamentation as early as the Middle to Late Jurassic, and provides further evidence relating to this aspect of the transition from non-avian theropods to birds.

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: Epidexipteryx hui gen. et sp. nov., IVPP V15471, main slab and close-up photos.
Figure 2: Line drawings and close-up photographs of Epidexipteryx hui gen. et sp. nov.
Figure 3: Phylogenetic relationships of Epidexipteryx hui gen. et sp. nov.

References

  1. 1

    Makovicky, P. J. et al. The earliest dromaeosaurid theropod from South America. Nature 437, 1007–1011 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Xu, X. & Norell, M. A. Non-avian dinosaur fossils from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol Group of western Liaoning, China. Geol. J. 41, 419–438 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Turner, A. H. et al. A basal dromaeosaurid and size evolution preceding avian flight. Science 317, 1378–1381 (2007)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Zhang, F.-C. et al. A juvenile coelurosaurian theropod from China indicates arboreal habits. Naturwissenschaften 89, 394–398 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Czerkas, S. A. & Yuan, C. in Feathered Dinosaurs and the Origin of Flight (ed. Czerkas, S. J.) 63–95 (The Dinosaur Museum, Blanding, 2002)

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Padian, K. in The Dinosauria 2nd edn (eds Weishampel, D. B., Dodson, P., Osmolska, H.) 210–231 (Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, 2004)

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Gao, K.-Q. & Ren, D. Radiometric dating of ignimbrite from Inner Mongolia provides no indication of a post-Middle Jurassic age for the Daohugou Beds. Acta Geol. Sin. 80, 42–45 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Chen, W. et al. Isotope geochronology of the fossil-bearing beds in the Daohugou area, Ningcheng, Inner Mongolia. Geol. Bull. Chin. 23, 1165–1169 (2004)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    He, H.-Y. et al. 40Ar/39Ar dating of ignimbrite from Inner Mongolia, northeastern China, indicates a post-Middle Jurassic age for the overlying Daohugou Bed. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31 L20609 10.1029/2004GL020792 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Liu, Y.-X., Liu, Y.-Q. & Zhang, H. LA-ICPMS zircon U-Pb dating in the Jurassic Daohugou Beds and correlative strata in Ningcheng of Inner Mongolia. Acta Geol. Sin. 80, 733–742 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Christiansen, P. & Fariña, R. A. Mass prediction in theropod dinosaurs. Hist. Biol. 16, 85–92 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Xu, X. et al. An unusual oviraptorosaurian dinosaur from China. Nature 419, 291–293 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Sampson, S. D., Carrano, M. T. & Forster, C. A. A bizarre predatory dinosaur from Madagascar: implications for the evolution of Gondwanan theropods. Nature 409, 504–505 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Kirkland, J. I. et al. A primitive therizinosauroid dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Utah. Nature 435, 84–87 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Hou, L.-H. & Chen, P.-J. Liaoxiornis delicatus gen. et sp. nov., the smallest Mesozoic bird. Chin. Sci. Bull. 44, 834–838 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Zhang, F.-C., Zhou, Z.-H. & Benton, M. J. A primitive confuciusornithid bird from China and its implications for early avian flight. Sci. China D 51, 625–639 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Zhou, Z. & Zhang, F. A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature 418, 405–409 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Zhang, F.-C., Zhou, Z.-H. & Hou, L.-H. in The Jehol Biota (eds Chang, M.-M., Chen, P.-J., Wang, Y.-Q. & Wang, Y.) 129–149 (Shanghai Sci. Technol. Publ., 2003)

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Zhou, Z., Barrett, P. M. & Hilton, J. An exceptionally preserved Lower Cretaceous ecosystem. Nature 421, 807–814 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Zhou, Z.-H. & Zhang, F.-C. Anatomy of the primitive bird Sapeornis chaoyangensis from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning, China. Can. J. Earth Sci. 40, 731–737 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Weishampel, D. B., Dodson, P. & Osmólska, H. The Dinosauria 2nd edn (Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, 2004)

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Xu, X. in Originations, Radiations and Biodiversity Changes (eds Rong, J.-Y. et al.) 627–642; 927–930 (Sci. Press, Beijing, 2006)

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Zhang, F.-C. & Zhou, Z.-H. in Originations, Radiations and Biodiversity Changes (eds Rong, J.-Y. et al.) 611–625; 923–925 (Sci. Press, Beijing, 2006)

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Prum, R. O. & Brush, A. H. The evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers. Q. Rev. Biol. 77, 261–295 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Xu, X. Scales, feathers and dinosaurs. Nature 440, 287–288 (2006)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Chiappe, L. M. et al. Anatomy and systematics of the Confuciusornithidae (Theropoda: Aves) from the Late Mesozoic of Northeastern China. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 242, 1–89 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Zhang, F.-C. & Zhou, Z.-H. A primitive enantiornithine bird and the origin of feathers. Science 290, 1955–1959 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Zheng, X.-T., Zhang, Z.-H. & Hou, L.-H. A new enantiornithine bird with four long rectrices from the Early Cretaceous of northern Hebei, China. Acta Geol. Sin. 81, 703–708 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Gill, F. B. Ornithology 2nd edn (Freeman, 1995)

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Andersson, M. Female choice selects for extreme tail length in a widowbird. Nature 299, 818–820 (1982)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank F. Jin for discussion, Y. Li for specimen preparation, W. Gao for photography, and J. Choiniere for the use of his laptop computer. This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Major Basic Research Projects of the Ministry of Science and Technology, China.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fucheng Zhang.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Measurements, Character List, Data Matrix, Strict Consensus Tree, Estimated Body Mass, Supplementary Figures S1 and S2 and Diagnosis of Scansoriopterygidae (PDF 805 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Zhang, F., Zhou, Z., Xu, X. et al. A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers. Nature 455, 1105–1108 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07447

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.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing