Jurassic archosaur is a non-dinosaurian bird

Abstract

Re-examination utilizing Keyence 3D digital microscopy and low angled illumination of the fossil Scansoriopteryx, a problematic sparrow-size pre-Archaeopteryx specimen from the Jurassic Daohugou Biotas, provides new evidence which challenges the widely accepted hypothesis that birds are derived from dinosaurs in which avian flight originated from cursorial forms. Contrary to previous interpretations in which Scansoriopteryx was considered to be a coelurosaurian theropod dinosaur, the absence of fundamental dinosaurian characteristics demonstrates that it was not derived from a dinosaurian ancestry and should not be considered as a theropod dinosaur. Furthermore, the combination in which highly plesiomorphic non-dinosaurian traits are retained along with highly derived features, yet only the beginnings of salient birdlike characteristics, indicates that the basal origins of Aves stemmed from outside the Dinosauria and further back to basal archosaurs. Impressions of primitive elongate feathers on the forelimbs and hindlimbs suggest that Scansoriopteryx represents a basal form of “tetrapteryx” in which incipient aerodynamics involving parachuting or gliding was possible. Along with unique adaptations for an arboreal lifestyle, Scansoriopteryx fulfills predictions from the early twentieth century that the ancestors of birds did not evolve from dinosaurs, and instead were derived from earlier arboreal archosaurs which originated flight according to the traditional trees-down scenario.

Zusammenfassung

Archosaurier aus dem Jura ist ein nicht-dinosaurischer Vogel Eine erneute Untersuchung mittels Keyence-3D-Digitalmikroskopie und Dunkelfeldbeleuchtung des fossilen Scansoriopteryx, eines zweifelhaften sperlingsgroßen prä-Archaeopteryx-Beleges aus den jurassischen Daohugou-Schichten, liefert neue Hinweise, welche die weithin anerkannte Hypothese in Frage stellen, dass Vögel von Dinosauriern abstammen und sich der Vogelflug über laufende Formen entwickelte. Im Widerspruch zu früheren Deutungen, die Scansoriopteryx als Coelurosaurier, also einen theropoden Dinosaurier, betrachteten, zeigt das Fehlen grundlegender Dinosaurier-Eigenschaften, dass er nicht von Dinosauriervorfahren abstammt und somit auch nicht als theropoder Dinosaurier angesehen werden sollte. Außerdem deuten die in Kombination mit stark abgeleiteten Merkmalen erhaltenen deutlich plesiomorphen Nichtdinosaurier-Eigenschaften bei gleichzeitig erst in Ansätzen vorhandenen vogelartigen Ausprägungen darauf hin, dass die tieferen Ursprünge der Aves außerhalb der Dinosaurier liegen und weiter zurück zu den basalen Archosauriern reichen. Abdrücke primitiver verlängerter Federn an den Vorder- und Hinterextremitäten legen nahe, dass Scansoriopteryx eine basale Form eines „Tetrapteryx“war, bei der beginnende Aerodynamik in Gestalt von Segel- oder Gleitflug möglich war. In Verbindung mit einzigartigen Anpassungen an eine baumbewohnende Lebensweise erfüllt Scansoriopteryx Vorhersagen aus dem frühen 20. Jahrhundert, die besagen, dass sich die Vorfahren der Vögel nicht aus Dinosauriern entwickelten, sondern stattdessen von früheren baumbewohnenden Archosauriern abstammen, bei denen sich der Flug gemäß der traditionellen Baumtheorie entwickelte.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

References

  1. Abel O (1911) Die vorfahen der vogel und ihre lebensweise. Verh Zool-Bot Ges Wien 61:144–191

    Google Scholar 

  2. Barrett PM, Hilton JM (2006) The Jehol Biota (Lower Cretaceous, China): new discoveries and future prospects. Integr Zool 1:11–17

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Beebe WA (1915) Tetrapteryx stage in the evolution of birds. Zoologica 2:39–52

    Google Scholar 

  4. Benton MJ (1999) Scleromochlus taylori and the origin of dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 354:1423–1446

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Burgers P, Chiappe LM (1999) The wing of Archaeopteryx as a primary thrust generator. Nature 399:60–62

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Čapek D, Metschler BT, Müller GB (2013) Thumbs down: a molecular-morphogenetic approach to avian digit homology. J Exp Zool B 322(1):1–1223

    Google Scholar 

  7. Chatterjee S, Templin RJ (2012) Palaeoecology, aerodynamics, and the origin of avian flight. In: Talent JA (ed) Earth and life, international year of planet earth. Springer, New York, pp 585–612

    Google Scholar 

  8. Chiappe LM (1999) Climbing Archaeopteryx? Archaeopteryx 15:109–112

    Google Scholar 

  9. Chiappe LM (2007) Glorified dinosaurs: the origin and early evolution of birds. Wiley, New York

    Google Scholar 

  10. Czerkas SA, Yuan C (2002) An arboreal maniraptoran from northeast China. Dinosaur Mus J 1:63–95

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dial KD (2003) Wing-assisted incline running and the evolution of flight. Science 299:402–404

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Feduccia A (2012) Riddle of the feathered dragons. Yale University Press, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  13. Feduccia A (2013) Bird origins anew. Auk 130:1–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Frey E, Sues H-D, Munk W (1997) Gliding mechanism in the Late Permian reptile Coelurosauravus. Science 275:1450–1452

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Gao K, Ren D (2006) Radiometric dating of ignimbrite from Inner Mongolia provides no indication of a post-middle Jurassic age for the Daohugou beds. Acta Geol Sinica (English edn) 80:42–45

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Gao CL, Chiappe LM, Ming QJ (2008) A new basal lineage of Early Cretaceous birds from China and its implications on the evolution of the avian tail. Palaeontology 51(4):775–791

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gong E-P, Martin LD, Burnham DA, Falk A, Hou L-H (2012) A new species of Microraptor from the Jehol Biota of northeastern China. Palaeoworld 21:81–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. He H, Wang XL, Zhou ZH, Zhu RX, Jin F, Wang F, Ding X, Boven A (2004) 40Ar/39Ar dating of ignimbrite from Inner Mongolia, northeastern China, indicates a post-Middle Jurassic age for the overlying Daohugou Beds. Geophys Res Lett 31:L20609

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Heilmann G (1926) The origin of birds. Witherby, London

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hertel F, Campbell KE Jr (2007) The antitrochanter of birds: form and function in balance. Auk 124:789–805

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hu D, Hou L, Zhang L, Xu X (2009) Troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus. Nature 461:640–643

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Irmis RB (2011) Evaluating hypotheses for the early diversification of dinosaurs. Earth Environ Sci Trans R Soc Edinb 101:397–426

    Google Scholar 

  23. Langer MC (2014) The origins of Dinosauria: much ado about nothing. Palaeontology 57(3):469–478

  24. Langer MC, Nesbitt SJ, Bittencourt JS, Irmis RB (2013) Non-dinosaurian Dinosauromorpha. Geol Soc Lond Spec Publ 379:157–186

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Liu Y, Liu Y, Ji S, Yang Z (2006) U–Pb zircon age for the Daohugou Biota at Ningcheng of Inner Mongolia and comments on related issues. Chin Sci Bull 51(21):2634–2644

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Maryańska T, Osmólska H, Wolsan M (2001) Avialan status for Oviraptorosauria. Acta Palaeontol Polonica 47:97–116

    Google Scholar 

  27. McGuire JA, Dudley R (2011) The biology of gliding in flying lizards (genus Draco) and their fossil and extant analogs. Integr Comp Biol 51:983–990

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Nesbitt SJ (2011) The early evolution of archosaurs: relationships and the origin of major clades. Bull Am Mus Nat Hist 352:1–292

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Nesbitt SJ, Irmis RB, Smith ND, Turner AH, Rowe T (2009) Hindlimb osteology and distribution of basal dinosauromorphs from the Late Triassic of North America. J Vertebr Paleont 29:498–516

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Nesbitt SJ, Barrett PM, Werning S, Sidor CA, Chairg AJ (2013) The oldest dinosaur? A Middle Triassic dinosauriform from Tanzania. Biol Lett 9:6. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2012.0949

    Google Scholar 

  31. O’Connor JK, Sullivan C (2014) Reinterpretation of the Early Cretaceous maniraptoran (Dinosauria: Theropoda) Zhongornis haoae as a scansoriopterygid-like non-avian, and morphological resemblances between scansoriopterygids and basal oviraptorosaurs. Vertebr Palasiat 52:3–30

    Google Scholar 

  32. Olshevsky G (1992) A revision of the parainfraclass Archosauria Cope, 1869, excluding the advanced Crocodylia. Mesoz Meand 2:1–268

    Google Scholar 

  33. Padian K, Chiappe LM (1998) The origin of birds and their flight. Sci Am 278:38–47

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Padian K, de Ricqlès A (2009) L’origine et l’évolution des oiseaux: 35 années de progrèss. CR Palevol 8:257–280

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Paul G (2002) Dinosaurs of the air: the evolution and loss of flight in dinosaurs and birds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

    Google Scholar 

  36. Peecook BR, Sidor CA, Nesbitt SJ, Smith RMH, Steyer JS, Angielczky KD (2013) A new silesaurid from the upper Nta were Formation of Zanbia (Middle Triassic) demonstrates the rapid diversification of Silesauridae (Avemetatarsalia), Dinosauriformes). J Vertebr Paleontol 33(5):1127–1137

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Senter P (2007) A new look at the phylogeny of coelurosauria (Dinosauria: Theropoda). J Syst Palaeontol 5(4):429–463

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Steiner H (1918) Das problem der diastataxie des vogelflugels. Jena Z Naturwiss Ges 83:279–300

    Google Scholar 

  39. Sullivan C, Wang Y, Hone DWE, Wang Y, Xing X, Zhang F (2014) The vertebrates of the Jurassic Daohugou Biota of northeastern China. J Vertebr Paleontol 34(2):243–280

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Wang X, Zhou Z, He H, Jin F, Wang Y, Zhang J (2005) Stratigraphy and age of the Daohugou Bed in Ningcheng, Inner Mongolia. Chin Sci Bull 50:2369–2376

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Xu X, Zhang F (2005) A new maniraptoran dinosaur from China with long feathers on the metatarsus. Naturwissenschaften 92(4):173–177

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  42. Xu X, Zhou Z, Wang X (2000) The smallest known non-avian theropod dinosaur. Nature 408:705–708

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Xu X, Ma QY, Hu DY (2010) Pre-Archaeopteryx coelurosaurian dinosaurs and their implications for understanding avian origins. Chin Sci Bull 55:1–7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Zhang F, Zhou Z, Xu X, Wang X (2002) A juvenile coelurosaurian theropod from China indicates arboreal habits. Naturwissenschaften 89:394–398

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. Zhang F, Zhou Z, Zing X, Wang X, Sullivan C (2008) A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers. Nature 455:1105–1108

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  46. Zheng X, Zhou Z, Wang X, Zhang F, Zhang X (2013) Hind wings in basal birds and the evolution of leg feathers. Science 339:1309–1312

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Zhou Z, Barrett PM, Hilton J (2003) An exceptionally preserved Lower Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystem. Nature 421:807–811

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  48. Zhou Z, Chiappe LM, Zhang F (2005) Anatomy of the Early Cretaceous Eoenantiornis buhleri (Aves: Enantiornithes) from China. Can J Earth Sci 42:1331–1338

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank Ji Qiang, for his valuable discussions and insights, the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences; Nick J. Spruill, Senior Technologist and Alfred M. Pettinger, Senior Managing Consultant, Director of Mechanics, Engineering Systems Inc. for the Keyence microscopy; Sylvia J. Czerkas, Director of The Dinosaur Museum; and Frances James and other reviewers for their helpful comments.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alan Feduccia.

Additional information

Communicated by F. Bairlein.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Czerkas, S.A., Feduccia, A. Jurassic archosaur is a non-dinosaurian bird. J Ornithol 155, 841–851 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-014-1098-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Scansoriopteryx
  • Epidendrosaurus
  • Theropod
  • Archosaur
  • Daohugou Biota
  • Jurassic