A new Jurassic theropod from China documents a transitional step in the macrostructure of feathers

Abstract

Genuine fossils with exquisitely preserved plumage from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous of northeastern China have recently revealed that bird-like theropod dinosaurs had long pennaceous feathers along their hindlimbs and may have used their four wings to glide or fly. Thus, it has been postulated that early bird flight might initially have involved four wings (Xu et al. Nature 421:335–340, 2003; Hu et al. Nature 461:640–643, 2009; Han et al. Nat Commun 5:4382, 2014). Here, we describe Serikornis sungei gen. et sp. nov., a new feathered theropod from the Tiaojishan Fm (Late Jurassic) of Liaoning Province, China. Its skeletal morphology suggests a ground-dwelling ecology with no flying adaptations. Our phylogenetic analysis places Serikornis, together with other Late Jurassic paravians from China, as a basal paravians, outside the Eumaniraptora clade. The tail of Serikornis is covered proximally by filaments and distally by slender rectrices. Thin symmetrical remiges lacking barbules are attached along its forelimbs and elongate hindlimb feathers extend up to its toes, suggesting that hindlimb remiges evolved in ground-dwelling maniraptorans before being co-opted to an arboreal lifestyle or flight.

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Abbreviations

PMOL:

Palaeontological Museum of Liaoning

YFGP:

Yizhou Fossil and Geology Park

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a grant (BL/36/62) to P.G. from the SPP Politique scientifique (Belgium), by FRIA Grants to U.L. and A.Ci. from the F.R.S.-FNRS and by grants to H.D. from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41172026) and the Natural Science Foundation (201102199). Photographs were taken by Thierry Hubin (RBINS). The use of TNT was kindly permitted by the Willi Hennig Society. The genus name was found after the preliminary expertise of the specimen by Danielle Dhouailly (Université Joseph Fourier). We thank each reviewer that spent time and made efforts in order to improve the final version of our paper. We would also like to thank Emily Willoughby who painted the life reconstruction of Serikornis sungei.

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Correspondence to Ulysse Lefèvre.

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Lefèvre, U., Cau, A., Cincotta, A. et al. A new Jurassic theropod from China documents a transitional step in the macrostructure of feathers. Sci Nat 104, 74 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-017-1496-y

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Keywords

  • Paraves
  • Birds
  • Feathers
  • Barbules
  • Jurassic
  • Flight evolution