Scientists Say Birds Predated Dinosaurs

ByABC News
February 23, 2001, 10:06 AM

W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 8 -- One of the earliest birdsever found used its feathers to fly, Chinese scientistsreported Thursday in a paper that other experts said laid torest any ideas that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs.

But scientists will probably continue to ruffle feathersover the origin-of-birds debate, which heats up every fewmonths as reports come out on fossils of what look like birds.

In the latest paper, published in the journal Science,Fucheng Zhang and Zhonghe Zhou of the Chinese Academy ofSciences in Beijing say they found a 120 million-year-old birdthat clearly had feathers and that clearly flew.

Dug up from an ancient lakebed in Chinas Hebei Province,the starling-sized bird is called Protopteryx fengningensis.

The body of Protopteryx was extensively covered byfeathers, which were preserved as carbonized traces orstructured imprints, Zhang and Zhou wrote in their paper.

The down feathers almost covered the whole body.

Pelvis Made for Flying

They said it had several features in common with modernflying birds, such as a procoracoid process, a structure of thepelvis.

In modern birds, the development of the procoracoid is anindicator of flight ability, they wrote. Poor fliers such aspheasants have a reduced procoracoid. True fliers, such asperching birds and hawks, have a well-developed procoracoid.

The feathers on the creature have many scale-likequalities, which the researchers say show that feathers evolvedfrom scales in distinct stages.

They propose that feathers evolved through four stages, inwhich scales became elongated, developed a central shaft,sprouted strands called barbs one each side, and finallydeveloped a more complex network of smaller strands calledbarbules.

Protopteryxs feathers look like they come from somewherein the middle of this process.

Dino-Fuzz Was Not Feathers

Alan Feduccia, a bird expert at the University of NorthCarolina who has led the argument that birds did not descendfrom dinosaurs, calls the paper extraordinarily important.