Posted by jlwile on January 2, 2013
Several months ago I wrote an article about the fossil evidence for primitive feathers (often called “protofeathers”) in some dinosaur specimens. The article discussed a study by Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, Alan Feduccia, and Xiaolin Wang that provided strong evidence against the common interpretation that the dinosaur Sinosauropteryx was covered in such protofeathers. In the discussion that followed, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati suggested that I should read another article by Lingham-Soliar.1 Over the holidays, I finally had a chance to do so. As he suggested, this is another very important study in the “feathered dinosaurs” debate. While Dr. Sarfati has his own excellent analysis of this study and a few others, I would like to add some thoughts of my own.
Lingham-Soliar’s study focused on two fossils: NIGP 127587 (identified as a Sinosauropteryx fossil) and GMV 2124 (thought to be a Sinosauropteryx fossil). Both exhibit exceptional preservation. In fact, the latter fossil is so well-preserved that the stomach contents were analyzed and three mammal skulls were found! Two came from mammals in the genus Zhangheotherium, and the third came from the genus Sinobaatar.2 The important aspect of the fossils for this study, however, is the fact that both show some sort of “fuzz” extending from the body of the animal (pointed out in the picture above). This “fuzz” has been routinely interpreted to be the remains of primitive feathers, but Lingham-Soliar and his colleagues strongly dispute that interpretation.
In an attempt to understand precisely what this “fuzz” represents, Lingham-Soliar performed a detailed examination of the fossils and also did a simple experiment. The combination of his fossil analysis and the results of the experiment provide still more evidence that Sinosauropteryx did not have any feathers.
One of the important things his examination revealed is that paleontologists have missed something very important about fossil GMV 2124: the way its tail ends. As he says:
Specimen GMV 2124 is also shown for the first time to have a broad spatulate termination of the tail.
Why is this important? For two reasons. First, there is “fuzz” around this spatula-shape. However, as he points out, that makes it very hard to believe that the fuzz represents any kind of feather:
The spatulate termination of the tail in GMV 2124 (Fig. 4a) shows conditions that argue against the filamentous tissue being feathers (Ji and Ji 1997). The vertebrae can be seen to rapidly diminish in size just before the spatulate termination, at the base of which they also apparently become compressed (Fig. 4b, inset). These two conditions would scarcely have provided the necessary area for the points of attachment for even a few protofeathers, let alone the masses needed to radiate in a sufficiently tight enough circle to produce a smooth, sharply defined edge (Fig. 4b, black arrows).
Second, it is thought that both fossils examined in the study were formed in a lacustrine (lake or lake-like) environment. If that is the case, Sinosauropteryx might have actually been a semi-aquatic reptile, and a spatula shape at the end of the tail would be ideal for swimming. Well, if Sinosauropteryx had one design element that would aid in swimming, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that it had others. Lingham-Soliar and his colleagues have continually suggested that the “fuzz” on these fossils represents the internal support fibers for some structure like a crest or a frill. Since a crest would also be an incredible advantage to a semi-aquatic reptile, he says:
Finally, it is bewildering that in a lacustrine environment, a crest-like structure on the tail or body or both, useful in swimming, is generally not even contemplated in dinosaurs such as Psittacosaurus, Sinosauropteryx, Tianyalong, and Beipiaosaurus.
Actually, I don’t find that bewildering at all. The evolution of feathers has always been a serious problem for evolutionists. At university, I was taught as fact that feathers evolved from scales. However, we now know that there are several reasons why that isn’t possible.3 As a result, evolutionists have been desperately scrambling for some other way to claim that feathers evolved. So when some “fuzz” was found on a few dinosaur fossils, it was immediately jumped on as the remains of primitive feathers, regardless of the fact that there are other (possibly more reasonable) explanations.
There are other interesting aspects to Lingham-Soliar’s study, especially the discussion of the experiment that was performed. However, they are covered well in Dr. Sarfati’s article, which I encourage you to read.
1. Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, “The evolution of the feather: Sinosauropteryx, life, death and preservation of an alleged feathered dinosaur,” Journal of Ornithology 153:699–711, 2012. (Available online)
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2. Hurum, J.H., Luo, Z., and Kielan-Jaworowska, Z., “Were mammals originally venomous?”, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51(1):1–11, 2006.
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3. Richard O. Prum and Alan H. Brush, “Which came first, the feather or the bird?”, Scientific American 288(3):84-93, 2003.
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