A new dinosaur fossil discovered in China supposedly indicates that it had feathers. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the fossil of the Yutyrannus huali, the “beautiful feathered tyrant,” was the largest yet found of the now famous Chinese “feathered dinosaurs.” The technical description published in Nature claimed that a “gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China” was recovered. But do these fossils really reveal former feathers, or does another interpretation, perhaps something as simple as decayed skin fibers, better explain them?
Yes, we’ve been here before.
Below its headline, the Christian Science Monitor qualified the “feathered” label: These “feathers” are actually just “feather-like features,” or “simple filaments.” Similarly, the Nature text described them as “filamentous integumentary [skin] structures.” Real bird feathers are complicated, with semi-hollow cores and branching barbs, but the fossil’s filaments apparently did not have these features. If the word “feather” just means “filament,” then could any filament—like a hair or plant fiber—not also be called a “feather”?
They quibble over semantics. Once again, the ‘skin’ inserted into the quote is quite definitely an insert. The trouble is that the fossil isn’t actually all that well preserved, hence the description as ‘filaments.’ But they’re definitely feathers.
Answering this correctly is important. Why would God have placed feathers on dinosaurs when, today at least, only birds have feathers? On the other hand, “The idea of protofeathers [feather-like filaments on dinosaurs] has strengthened the resolve of many palaeontologists that birds are direct descendents of theropod [lizard-hipped, three-toed] dinosaurs,” even though these “feathers” have been discovered on non-theropod dinosaurs, too.
This is an unwise place for the ICR to make a stand. There are blatantly feathered non-avian dinosaurs, as we are going to see.
Also, we have an element of deception here. The protofeathers that Alan Feduccia (for that is a quote from a Feduccia paper) is saying are really collagen are not the same things as the actual feathers that Thomas and Sherwin are calling the same thing. Feduccia does not deny the clear feathers of such animals as Microraptor, for an example, he instead makes the rather extreme claim that this shows that these feathered dinosaurs aren’t actually dinosaurs. When it comes down to it it’s a no true scotsman fallacy, which will be part of why he’s in the minority these days. Take a look at the journal references for this article: they are pulled from quite a small group of researchers.
As for the discoveries of the protofeathers on non-theropod dinosaurs, consider this: Birds have feathers. Pterosaurs, the dinosaurs’ closest relatives, had their own coverings. It’s not, then, inconceivable that all dinosaurs may have had the base structures to work on, some of which then became true feathers.
Also, neither dinosaur skin impressions nor original dinosaur skin has follicles similar to those that produce feathers in bird skin. What purpose would bird feathers serve on those tough dino hides? Plus, dinosaurs could not have evolved into birds because transmutating a dinosaur skeleton into a bird skeleton would have rendered the transitional creatures unfit, being unable to fly or walk properly. These Chinese tyrannosaur fibers, as with perhaps all the famous Chinese fossil dinosaur “feathers” so far, are more straightforwardly interpreted as the fossilized fragments of partly decayed skin.
There are some really interesting adjectives in this article – “tough dino hides” etc. And the claim that the “transitional creatures” would be “unfit” is just bogus.
Skin contains collagen protein fibers that decay more slowly than the soluble biomaterials that surround them. The famous Chinese dinosaurs probably began rotting as they were transported by the waters of Noah’s Flood only 4,500 or so years ago, even as modern carcasses rot. The soluble flesh rotted first. The thickly woven collagen fibers would have soon rotted, too, but the surrounding mud or wet sand quickly turned to dry rock that inhibited growth of collagen-eating microbes.
Researchers in 2005 found an excellent match between partially decayed skin from a variety of animal carcasses and dinosaur “feathers” then published. Even the evolutionary authors contended that calling dinosaur fibers “feathers” was “misleading.” And these new tyrannosaur fibers provide no evidence to overturn that analysis.
Aha. That’s possibly because, again, that Feduccia paper is talking about protofeathers.
The idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds is also misleading. The poster child of Darwinian change is Archaeopteryx, an alleged link via therapod dinosaurs between reptiles and birds. However, unlike dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx had a large braincase for the increased motor control and sensory input that were required for flight. Theropods had a lizard-like pelvis that was distinct from a bird’s frame. Furthermore, Archaeopteryx had a robust furcula (wishbone), a trait characteristic of strong fliers—one that keeps flight muscles from crushing the bird’s delicate internal air sacs. No evidence supports the story that such fully formed wings with fused clavicles “evolved from” the tiny, clavicle-free theropod forelimbs. Even claw measurements of Archaeopteryx fall within the range of true perching birds. It was a bird without a single transitional feature.
What, exactly, is a ‘transitional feature’? Thomas mentions all these features that Archaeopteryx apparently had that dinosaurs did not, but what about all the features that birds have that Archaeopteryx did not? Modern birds do not have teeth – Archaeopteryx did. And the fused clavicles/furcula – one wonders why they did not put the “fused” in scare quotes, as that in itself implies evolution – are present in many non-avian dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurids.
In addition, those who insist that dinosaurs evolved into birds have to willfully ignore the fossil bird prints found in rock layers containing some of the “earliest” dinosaurs—the supposed ancestors of birds.
Interesting. The reference for that claim is the Nature paper Bird-like fossil footprints from the Late Triassic. It’s always amusing to me how the ICR attacks and defends the reliability of certain scientific claims not on their merits but by whether they agree with them or not. Here’s an interesting forum topic on the subject. It’s really not conclusive, however.
An Archaeopteryx bird fossil from Solnhofen, Germany, was recently analyzed using new techniques that detect element ratios without destroying the material. The results indirectly, but certainly, identified original feather and bone proteins. It had the same biochemistry that comprises today’s feathers. Fossils show no evolution of feathers.
“Recently” means “published in 2010.” This does not really prove anything when it comes to feathers not evolving. And they did not identify “original feather and bone proteins.”
The original Archaeopteryx tissue also showed how young it must be. Its evolutionary age assignment is about 150 times older than its protein decay age estimate. So, not only does it look purposefully created, but it also appears to be recently fossilized. A separate study found that the supposed “feather” filaments in another Chinese dinosaur from the same large fossil set as that containing this new tyrannosaur, called the Jehol Biota, were also original biochemicals. They could persist in this state for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, but after a million or so years they would have spontaneously degraded to dust.
This is just made up – there is no original tissue here. Fossilised melanosomes are fossilised. They will survive a billion years if you let them.
A feathered dinosaur may someday be discovered. But even then, feathers on a dinosaur would not solve evolution’s biophysical impasse of converting a reptile skeleton into that of a bird. And so far, the evidence for feathered dinosaurs is much better interpreted as decayed skin fibers. Overall, fossils show that dinosaurs and birds have always been separate creatures. And this is exactly what one would expect if dinosaurs and birds were created separately, each to reproduce “after their kind.”
Also present in the article are a number of images. These are labeled “Extinct bird Eoenantiornis with feather impression and darkly colored feather tissue residue, China”; “Extinct dinosaur Caudipteryx labeled, “feathered dinosaur,” China. Dark streaks along spine best match decayed skin fibers, not feathers”; and “Extinct bird Archaeopteryx with feather impressions in rock, Germany.” The middle picture is Brian’s rather blurry image of the Caudipteryx we’ve seen before. A proper image – see to the right – will reveal far more obvious feathers than even the Archaeopteryx below it. It’s really breathtaking.