Posts Tagged 'feathers'

Kulindadromeus images

While I’m sure huge parts of the internet are currently going mad over the new ornithischian Kulindadromeus and the implications for fuzzy dinosaurs (or otherwise) there current crop of pictures available isn’t that great. Inevitably those in the paper are small and crammed into the limited space (in the main paper at least, I’ve not yet got hold of the supplementary files and am writing this before the paper is released) and the press images are focused on the beautiful life reconstructions. However, Pascal Godefroit was kind enough to pass onto me a pile of images that he said I could use. Many have made their way onto my Guardian piece on the subject, but even there they have to stay small to fit the website’s style and some of the detail is lacking, so I’ll put them up here instead.

Obviously these images come directly from Pascal and are copyright to him and his team and should not be reproduced without his direct permission. Anyway, they do show some nice details of various parts of these specimens and the different integumentary structures (both scales and filaments) rather well and I imagine will be of some interest. I won’t add any more description here since I’ve already written a couple of thousand words on this animal today and I suspect most readers will be angling for the paper to do their detailed reading anyway. Enjoy.

feathers on femur 3Multiple filaments associated with the femur


SONY DSCMultiple filaments associated with the humerus.


foot + scalesSmall scales associated with the pes.


head+integumentSmall filaments associated with the skull.


integument on proximal tibia 2Filaments at the proximal tibia.


scales on distal tibia 2Scales on the distal tibia.


SONY DSCClose up of tooth series.


Huge thanks to Pascal for lending me these images and letting me put them online and obviously my congratulations on the discovery.

The filamented Psittacosaurus


By now most people with even a passing interest will be aware of the fact that there are now a number of specimens (and indeed species) of ornithischian dinosaurs that are preserved with some form of filament-type structure which, superficially at least, bear some resemblance to primitive feathers. However when the first candidate was announced, this specimen of Psittacosaurus housed in Frankfurt, it inevitably causes something of a furore with many suspicious of the data and suggestions that the filaments were simply coincidentally preserved plant stems or something similar.

The discovery of multiple specimens of Tianyulong inevitably make this rather more plausible as a real find, though of course a few more filamented Psittacosaurus would be nice. A third taxon is apparently now know but sadly illness led to a no-show at SVP so few have seen anything of this new find. Still, the original find is an impressive specimen, but doesn’t seem to have really been thoroughly described or illustrated too well and as I’m in a position to at least partially rectify that, here’s some photos I took of the specimen on my recent trip.

I have actually seen this before years ago but extremely briefly, and have also seen a superb cast of it in the Carnegie (my photo of which actually popped up in a dinosaur text book recently, [with permission I should add] such was the quality of the copy). However, I’d never really *looked* at it properly and actually spending a few minutes (even through a glass case) reveals some lovely details.

First off, it’s big. The biggest specimen I’ve seen by far for this genus, though the head is not that large compared to the rest of the body. Then there is skin pretty much everywhere – this does turn up in Liaoning not too infrequently, but rarely to this extent or quality. It covers large chunks of the animal and even completely covers large chunks of the bones in places (just look at the femur) and it looks like there’s a pile of gastroliths in the gut that are also covered.

While I’d be very cautious about interpreting the extent of the skin as being directly linked to other soft tissues, the extensive ‘flap’ behind the hindlimb would correspond with what you might expect from large retractor muscles there and so might well be genuine. Not only that, but there’s quite a bit of texture to the skin and in a couple of places it appears to have a different surface texture to others (see the underside of the base of the tail, and the area around the toes), which could also be genuine. On top of that, both the individual scales are clear in some places, and are even coloured differently (the larger ones are black) implying at least the possibility of this representing a pattern on the animal, and this changes along the body (look a the concentration in the tail, compared to the legs) though again:caution. It does look rather like this little patch that I featured years ago which is rather neat. Finally, this pattern also extend onto bones that are not obviously covered with skin (see the distal forelimb for example) with apparently the stains or some other taphonomic artefact of the scales left on the bones themselves.

And yes, then there are the filaments. Sprouting up off the base of the tail and extending most of the way along its (incomplete) length. They are rather thick and clearly somewhat stiff, but also flexible enough to bend under their own weight. While not a common reference, they look a lot to me in terms of  their apparent properties like the tail hairs of giraffe (though much, thicker). It’s a real shame they are at least in part cut off the edge of the slab, but certainly appear to have stopped appearing well short of the end of the tail, so their full extent does appear to have been preserved.









I think that’s everything I can reasonably (or even unreasonably) speculate about this specimen without, yknow, actually going back and reading the original paper and associated commentary. However, the really key thing is of course that here’s some nice pictures of this and it gives a welcome opportunity to revisit this important and interest specimen.


It was suggested to me not too long ago that I might well have the best and most extensive collection of images of Archaeopteryx specimens online. Between having seen quite a few of these on display and having taken photos myself, plus the near endless collection generously sent on by Helmut Tischlinger of his UV works, nearly every specimen is on here and most with multiple views, close-ups and in UV. I am still missing a couple, but I’d have to agree that I’ve yet to see any online collection that can rival mine. Still, they are scatted around all manner of posts and so aren’t necessarily that easy to find. No more, here’s they are all are for convenience.

Cast of the London specimen

The Berlin specimen

The Berlin specimen returns

The Munich specimen

Mayr with the Eichstaett specimen

Eichstaett, Thermopolis and Berlin in UV

Solnhofen, Eichstaett and ‘chicken-wing’ specimens

Close-ups of the Solnhofen specimen

Solnhofen specimen in black and white

The Thermopolis specimen

The Daiting specimen (and in UV)

The most recent (11th) specimen (and in UV)

More on the 11th specimen

Yet more Archaeopteryx – Chicken Wing, Haarlem and Maxberg

If you have others you are happy to share and have permission to distribute, do please let me know and send them on. This is simply there as a reference collection for people to learn and work with, but obviously more (or better, not all of these are great) would be lovely to have and make this still more useful. I know there are some scans and images out there and it’d be great to round this out as a clearing-house for people who want to see and compare these specimens.


Readers will remember a beautiful fossil from the Solnhofen being shown on here back in November of last year. People who have access to the internet will probably now now that yesterday the first formal publication on this animal came out. It’s now named Sciurumimus – the squirrel mimic – on account of the rather bushy tail. There’s already a ton of discussion on this online and quite some hefty coverage so I’m not going to dive into the ins and outs of feather distribution in theropods or the phylogenetic position of it. It is worth comparing it to Juraventor of course – sister-taxon to Sciurumimus in the analysis and from the same beds. Despite the obvious gross similarities, the authors do note a ton of small differences between the two that suggest they are genuinely distinct.

Of much more interest to the readers though will be the fact that once more Helmut Tischlinger has been generous enough to send me a variety of nice images with permission to publish them here. At least one of these isn’t in the paper and the res is pretty good so even those of you who’ve been able to peruse the PNAS paper might do well here, so enjoy. As usual my thanks to him for this very generous act and a reminder that these are his images and should not be reproduced without permission etc.





The giant, feathered tyrannosaur Yutyrannus huali

So perhaps inevitably the fossil beds of Liaoning in China have coughed up yet another fascinating feathered dinosaur. Yutyrannus huali (which translates as the ‘beautiful feathered tyrant’) is big – as big as some of the Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurines with the largest specimen being around 9 m long and estimated to have weighted close to 1.5 tons. In short, this was big. And feathered. While they are not brilliantly preserved, they are clearly present in places and directly associated with the skeleton as should be expected.

There are a few interesting things about this and I’ll go over them in turn, though as ever the first port of call should really be the paper for the real nitty gritty. First off, the specimens themselves – there are three of them, so this is already a well known animal, and two are basically complete. There’s a lot of anatomy right there and yes, I have to confess, rather more than some other tyrannosaurs I could mention. Indeed two of them are preserved together, as a pair, which nicely hints at least (well, I’m going to say so) at the possibility of sociality (theropods being more social than previously suggested, how interesting?).  Multiple specimens are always great and animals this size being preserved at all are quite rare in the Jehol, so it’s pretty impressive we have three of them. They are also preserved in that psuedo-3D manner I mentioned the other day so there’s really quite a bit of detail there and they are not badly crushed or mashed (as you can see in the pictures below).

Now it is of course already known that tyrannosaurs were feathered, with the basal Dilong being preserved with feathers. The question is of course, did the bigger ones like T. rex have them? There’s been suggestions that they didn’t as they could overheat and there are hints of scaly, feather-less skin from impressions refereed to Tyrannosaurus. So while at least some tyrannosaurs certainly had feathers, and large ones certainly could have done, this is definitive evidence that they genuinely did. The size issue is of course interesting since indeed, very large animals tend to reduce insulation to avoid overheating (elephants, rhinos, hippos etc. are not that hairy and indeed elephants can struggle to keep cool). The obvious exception being animals that live(d) in cold climates like mammoths, and the researchers note that actually the environment Yutyrannus lived in was likely rather cooler on average than that occupied by a number of later tyrannosaurs, so this may indeed have helped them stay warm.

Below are some pictures of the various fossils. While you’ve probably seen a number of these before on all the other sides my insider contacts means I’ve been sent a few to use which were neither in the paper nor press release. So there’s something novel here for everyone, even if it’s not in the text.

Top image by Brian Choo (used with permission) and the rest courtesy of Xu Xing and colleagues.

Xu, X. et al. 2012. A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature10906

Heads and tails – Microraptor feathers

From Li et al., 2012

Much has been said about the recent Science paper reporting on the possibility, or perhaps rather probability, that Microraptor had iridescent feathers. So much so awesome, but there are, for me, other interesting things that are buried in the supplementary data to the paper that I’ve not seen mentioned so far (not that I have widely read coverage of the paper, I mostly just read the paper).

First off, as seen above, the idea that things like Microraptor and others (Anchiornis being the most obvious candidate) had some little crest of feathers on the head. As shown by the X-ray, pigeons have a very similar arrangement of feathers and yet it’s simply part of the natural contours of the feathers and their position. Basically the feathers really are preserved as they were in life, and that this isn’t anything odd or expanded but that the shape of the head (with feathers) would be very modern bird-like.

Secondly, the tail was noted to have two rather elongate streamers in the midline and this looked familiar but I couldn’t place my finger on it. Now I have it, it is, for me, really quite similar to what you see in European magpies. There’s an obvious tail fan there, but in the middle, the feathers are rather longer, though not *that* exaggerated. Given the implications for signalling advocated in the paper, I’d be intrigued to know if people have looked at these feathers alone in magpies and how they are used or if birds are affected socially when they are trimmed or absent – could be something there to look at one day.

From Li et al., 2012

Li, et al. Reconstruction of Microraptor and the Evolution of Iridescent Plumage. Science 9 March 2012: 1215-1219.DOI:10.1126/science.1213780

Psittacosaurus again

Psittacosaurus is a genus that has had much coverage on the Musings if only becuase there are so many specimens floating around. However, while I’ve at least made mention of it, the most important specimen had not really featured here before and so here it is (well a cast). This is the famous / infamous ‘filamentous’ specimen that was purported to show an ornithischian with something close to protofeathers. It caused a storm of controversy, partly because of the apparently illegal acquisition of the specimen and also because it was far from clear if these were filaments or not. Obviously the appearance of Tianyulong went a very long way to convincing people that this was likely for real and not just the remnants of a plant, what with that being an ornithischian covered in them. This remains then a most important and much understudied specimen – would kinda help if it turned up – anyone know where it is?


Although I have seen this specimen before (and indeed others) this is the first time it’s been ‘out’ and available. Like many things published in Nature and Science and similar journals, the specimens might be very interesting and important, but the restrictions of space means you may only get a small photo of the material and a couple of close-ups: no lavish 10 colour plates or multiple views of important elements for you (though the supplementary data increasingly helps out).

Not that I can do much more here as the damned thing was quite some way from the glass and at an odd angle, but hey, at least it’s a couple of new images of this interesting and potentially profoundly important specimen.

Anchiornis & Microraptor

As noted on here before, an increasing number of dinosaur species from China are known from multiple good specimens, but have yet to enter the literature. When there is a mountain of new species to describe, new material of well (and not so well) established taxa tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

It was then pleasing to see a new specimen each of Microraptor (above) and Anchiornis (well, the two were labelled as such) on display at the Dino Expo. Both species are apparently very well represented in collections but only when they start being described and catalogued and their identities confirmed can we start to work on major areas of their biology that are limited to taxa with large pools of specimens – sexual dimorphism, ontogeny, intraspecific variation. Still, at least I have some photos….

Wing decay

This is a photo from last summer’s fieldwork in Xinjiang in western China and it makes rather a nice point about taphonomy and preservation. Obviously the preservation of feathers is a rather important aspect of dinosaur palaeontology so an understanding of how they act in living (well, dead) birds is a great source of data for us. As noted in the past, feathers can and do both articulate and even attach to the bones of both birds and dinosaurs and this can be seen in a few fossils and very clearly in living taxa.

You can see this rather well here. Whatever bird these wings came from is long gone, as has the skin and muscles, but the feathers, while a bit tatty, are still there. Not only are they still there, but they’re also still articulated on the bones in a pretty natural position. So feathers are structures that are remarkably resistant to decay and resistant to moving from their natural positions. This of course tells us two things about fossils.

First this tells us that we can reasonably assume that fossils like Microraptor maintain their feathers in a natural position when fossilised. Even in such a heavily weathered and battered specimen like the one shown here the wing feathers at least suck it all up without any real trouble. So a near complete and articulated specimen with all manner of small feathers etc. in situ really is about as natural as you can reasonably expect.

Secondly, this also explains why you often get fossils with feathers and not much else in the way of soft tissues. Things like muscles and skin are exceptionally rare as specimens (as indeed are other things like pterosaur wings or amphibian gills) and even in the kinds of localities that preserve such things, feathers are still more common. Look at Archaeopteryx for example – several specimens have beautiful arrays of feathers but no other soft tissues at all – not even necessarily good claws or bits of cartilage which are pretty robust as non-bony things go. Well that’s not quite true as most of the feathers preserved in these are as impressions, though some original bits remain, though this is very much true of various Liaoning specimens for example.

Still this does show you what can be learned from just a few scraps of dead animal lying in the dirt. Obviously what I’m talking about here is based on papers published on the subject of bird decay, but this lone bit of bird is a good example of how this goes and what it can tell us about fossils 150 million years in the ground.


Getting to Eichstaett was really rather good timing given that the new and long description of Juravenator is finally out. This little theropod caused quite a stir when it first appeared in 2006, though of course as a specimen it had been around for a while before then. I did have a bunch of photos of this from previous trips, but nothing digital, and now the slab is out in display this was too good an opportunity to miss.

Juravenator is generally considered to be a compsognathid of some kind and the specimen is wonderfully complete. Partly prepared using UV light this meant that even very small details are preserved and not lost through cleaning the bones. In addition to the scales around the tail (see below) there is the possibility of some feather-like fibers amongst the scales. If there is a ‘problem’ as such with the material it is that this is another juvenile. This seems to be a common theme with compsognathids with the ‘classic’ Compsognathus holoype also obviously being a young animal as well. It would be nice to have a really good adult compsognathid turn up and give us a bit more insight into this group. While several taxa are now known, they don’t get anything like the attention of other even ‘minor’ theropods groups and its about time someone really got to grips with them (or if they have, I’ve clearly missed it).

Chiappe, L.M. and Göhlich, U.B. (2010). “Anatomy of Juravenator starki (Theropoda: Coelurosauria) from the Late Jurassic of Germany.Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie – Abhandlungen, 258(3): 257-296. doi:10.1127/0077-7749/2010/012

What colour was Anchiornis?

If you have been keeping up with recent research on feathered dinosaurs (or even if you haven’t, this was everywhere for a while) you will know that several teams have published papers describing the colours of the feathers of various dinosaurs. Those with good memories or a strong interest will probably know that Anchiornis was revealed to have been predominantly back (or at least, very dark) with splashes of orange (or reddy colours).

However, it would I think be premature to assume that this is necessarily the right, or perhaps better, only answer. What we really know is that one Anchiornis specimen was black and orange at the time it died (assuming there are no taphonomic or other issues). Even people exceptionally unfamiliar with the basics of ecology or ornithology should be able to recognise this potential problem. There are lots of reasons to think that not all Anchiornis were this colour, and not all of the time.

At the bare minimum we might expect differences within the species as there will always be some differences in colour and patterning. The morphology of the bones might be identical between different species that were otherwise distinguished by their feather patterns or behaviour (as with the pheasants example I gave recently) that and thus are effectively invisible in the fossil record. There could always be local differences across the range of the species (some might live in forests and others in open areas or have different predators etc.). Far more simply though, it would be a surprise if males and females were truly identical in plumage, if juveniles had the same patterns as adults or if there were no changes over the seasons with moults.

In short, the research is exciting and interesting and the wealth of new ‘accurate’ reconstructions of Anchiornis are great. But for this and other feathered dinosaurs, this really not rule out other variations and combinations of colours from being wrong or being suggested. I’d be most surprised if future work didn;t reveal other patterns and colours for other specimens of the same fossil taxon. Equally, I’d be wary of inferring too much from one specimen – the present pattern can;t be used to infer much about the beahviour of the animal when we don’t know if it was male or female, in breeding season or not, in a summer or winter coat or even midway between them.

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