The Feathered Dinosaurs

Another quick post, but one that is well worth it I feel just to have it out on the internet. I have noticed that an awful lot of websites, articles and the rest love their feathered dinosaurs and go to no end to report them, review them or mention them. Reconstructions of feathered tyrannosaurs and oviraptorsaurs abound before we even start on the dromaeosaurs. They get everywhere in short, and while the fossil evidence for feathered dinosaurs is unambiguous and definitive, it is surprising just how few examples there are. Of course it is reasonable to reconstruct a great many taxa with feathers, but in terms of actual species preserved with feathers, the numbers are small. Very small in fact – less than twenty.

Here I am deliberately including the widest definition of ‘feathers’ and include every possible definition of a feather, protofeather, feather-like filament or whatever you want to call it. I am only including those species preserved with the feathers themselves and not those with things like quill knobs (Velociraptor). I’ll stop at Archaeopteryx, and not go into the birds at all, and I am taking a fairly conservative approach to taxonomy, though as it happens there are only a couple of taxa that you might want to split from those listed here. There are also a couple of unpublished species I happen to know about, but for obvious reasons cannot divulge the details.

So, in no particular order, here they are:
Dilong paradoxus
Beipiaosaurus inexpectus
Microraptor gui
Microraptor zhaoianus
Caudipteryx zoui
Caudipteryx dongi
Archaeopteryx lithographica
Sinosauropteryx prima
Sinornithosaurus millenii
Yixianosaurus longimanus
Jinfengopteryx elegans
Juravenator starki
Epidendrosaurus ninchengensis
Sinocalliopteryx gigas
Pedopenna daohugouensis
Shuvuuia deserti
Protarchaeopteryx robusta
Epidexipteryx hui

When you compare this to the almost endless round of feathered dinosaurs stuff on the internet, it really puts it into perspective. When you then add to that the fact that almost all of them come from the Jehol biota of China and two more are from the Solnhofen and suddenly the list looks pretty short in terms of diversity. The much celebrated feathers of tyrannosaurs are limited to a single taxon (Dilong) and just two species on a single genus for the oviraptorsaurs. Sure feathers rarely preserve and we are in many ways lucky to have any, but I suspect this list is far shorter than many people might have thought. One thing that is worth mentioning though is that for several of these there are many specimens (Microraptor runs to about a dozen between the two described species and there are at least six feathered Caudipteryx specimens). Given the gap between the discovery of Archaeopteryx and the rest and then the huge proliferation in recent years, we can certainly expect more in the future.

A quick note, the image is sourced from wiki and not an original of mine for once. And not an original specimen either, it looks like a cast to me. Oh, and I wrote this thing about 3 weeks ago, now just seemed a good time to post it, with so many people coming over here for the Epidexipteryx post.

9 Responses to “The Feathered Dinosaurs”


  1. 1 Christopher Collinson 25/10/2008 at 11:44 am

    Huh? Was there a paper on Juravenator that I missed? I thought the only “preserved” integument was scaly.

  2. 2 David Hone 25/10/2008 at 11:55 am

    Yep, you and the rest of the world: Goehlich, U.B., Tischlinger, H., & Chiappe, L.M. 2006. Juraventaor starki (Reptilia, Theropoda) ein nuer Raubdinosaurier aus dem Oberjura der Suedlichen Frankenalb (Sueddeutschland): Skelettanatomie und Wiechteilbefunde. Archaeopteryx, 24: 1-26.

    Very, very short version, there are structures on the tail that *may* be protofeather filaments.

  3. 3 Nick Gardner 25/10/2008 at 12:14 pm

    Of course, you meant to type Yixianosaurus, I am sure. :-)

    Nice list, and there are some pretty sweet figures in that Archaeopteryx paper on Juravenator. I saw it at SVP, but I had it already… hehe.

  4. 4 David Hone 25/10/2008 at 12:18 pm

    Yes, damnit. Thanks Nick, I’ll correct that. I made sure I got the X and Y the right way round (I often type that as Xiyianosaurus) and then did that! Cheers.

  5. 5 Darren Naish 26/10/2008 at 4:44 am

    With the greatest of respect intended Dave (and don’t take this personally), I don’t really see what your point is. Do you know how many fossil mammal taxa have hair preserved? As you know, the discovery of feathered non-avian taxa is dependent entirely on the lagerstatten effect. And, of course, lagerstatte preserving theropods are very rare. So – we should be ecstatically happy with the feathered theropods we have, not decrying their rarity. I suppose we’ll need a few more hundred years of collection before we have a good sample…

  6. 6 David Hone 26/10/2008 at 9:03 am

    My point was merely that everyone seems to be happy that there are feathered dinosaurs known, and that there were an enormously wide range of feathered taxa (oviraptorsaurs, tyrannosaurs, dromaeosaurs, theirizinosaurs etc.) but this is actually based on few specimens and species. Every single feathered dinosaur seems to be greeded with ever more press coverage (and this is no bad thing) but I think it has let to the idea that we are swimming in them, when we aren’t. That was all I was really trying to get across, and it looks like I failed badly!

  7. 7 Alessio 05/12/2008 at 2:13 am

    Good article!

    Regarding feathered critters you are perfectly right…Nowadays,many people (paleontologists,dino-entushiasts,paleoartists…Yes,i’m talking with you,Luis!) seem to think that every goddamn theropod dinosaur was clad in feathers,even if the TRUE proof of it is merely restricted to few taxa…

    What i think about it?

    Well,some dinosaurs were surely feathered but,lil’ remains or not,i still think they were fewer than their scaly brothers ;)

  8. 8 David Hone 05/12/2008 at 3:22 pm

    Well I think they commonly were feathered (that is how one should apply the phylogeentic bracket), but the point of the article was to point out the discrpancy between the number of (corretly) feathered illustations of taxa and the actual (few) numbers of feathered taxa. Given the comments on this post, I did a pretty poor job it seems.


  1. 1 Birds of a (leg) feather « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 15/07/2009 at 11:20 am

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