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A pre-Archaeopteryx troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus

Nature volume 461, pages 640643 (01 October 2009) | Download Citation


The early evolution of the major groups of derived non-avialan theropods is still not well understood, mainly because of their poor fossil record in the Jurassic. A well-known result of this problem is the ‘temporal paradox’ argument that is sometimes made against the theropod hypothesis of avian origins1. Here we report on an exceptionally well-preserved small theropod specimen collected from the earliest Late Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation of western Liaoning, China2. The specimen is referable to the Troodontidae, which are among the theropods most closely related to birds. This new find refutes the ‘temporal paradox’1 and provides significant information on the temporal framework of theropod divergence. Furthermore, the extensive feathering of this specimen, particularly the attachment of long pennaceous feathers to the pes, sheds new light on the early evolution of feathers and demonstrates the complex distribution of skeletal and integumentary features close to the dinosaur–bird transition.

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We thank S. Zheng for help with the fieldwork, T. Yu for preparing the specimen, C. Sullivan for editing and commenting on the manuscript, G. Sun, P. Cheng and F. Jin for discussions and comments, and J. Huang for Supplementary Fig. 4i. The fieldwork was supported by grants from the Education Bureau of Liaoning Province (numbers 20060805 and 2008S214) and the Special Fund of Shenyang Normal University. This study was also supported by grants to X.X. from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and Major Basic Research Projects of the Ministry of Science and Technology, China.

Author Contributions D.-Y.H and X.X. designed the project. D.-Y.H., X.X., L.-H.H and L.-J.Z. performed the research. X.X. and D.-Y.H. wrote the manuscript.

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  1. Paleontological Institute, Shenyang Normal University, 253 North Huanghe Street, Shenyang 110034, China

    • Dongyu Hu
    • , Lianhai Hou
    • , Lijun Zhang
    •  & Xing Xu
  2. Key Laboratory of Evolutionary Systematics of Vertebrates, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 142 Xiwai Street, Beijing 100044, China

    • Lianhai Hou
    •  & Xing Xu
  3. Shenyang Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources, 25 Beiling Street, Shenyang 110032, China

    • Lijun Zhang


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Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Dongyu Hu or Xing Xu.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Notes and Data, Supplementary Figures S1-S5 with Legends, Supplementary Character List, Supplementary Matrix and Supplementary References.

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