Monday, September 28, 2009


You may have heard of Archeopteryx, the "first bird." Well, here's some big paleontological news, that just broke over the weekend. An older bird has been found, again, from China, which is the modern Gold Rush of dinosaur paleontology. Anchiornis huxleyi (Huxley's near bird) has been discovered in the Oxfordian Tiaojishan formation in Liaoning, China. It's been described, based on two specimens, as a troodontid, which are closely related to dromeosaurs. The later, better known dromeosaurs and troodontids might even be seen here as secondarily flightless specimens, based on finds like Anchiornis and others from the late Jurassic. This little guy predates Archeopteryx lithographica by at least five and possibly as much as fifteen million years, and shows both plumaceous "dino-fuzz" as well as pennaceous flight feathers. Also like Microraptor, he had four wings; long flight feathers attached to the leg as well, and in fact (unlike any modern bird) even the feet were completely feathered.

I'm not sure that, other than the confirmed earlier than Archeopteryx date, this is a particularly important find; we already knew about Microraptor from the early Cretaceous, and Pedopenna although the dating on that specimen is unclear, and Anchiornis resembled both to a great degree. It does, however, help us figure out exactly what was going on with the dinosaurs, particularly the paravian dinosaurs, that lead to the development of the earliest true birds.

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