BBC BLOGS - Today: Tom Feilden
« Previous | Main | Next »

It's official: Birds are descended from dinosaurs

Tom Feilden | 08:23 UK time, Friday, 25 September 2009

"Missing link" fossil

Proof positive - if proof were needed - that birds evolved from dinosaurs will be unveiled in Bristol today.

It comes in the shape of five new feathered dinosaur species being presented by legendary Chinese fossil hunter Xu Xing at the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology's annual meeting.

Reconstruction of anchiornisXu, dubbed the "Indiana Jones" of palaeontology for his swashbuckling exploits in the deserts of northern China, claims the fossils - including the spectacular four-winged Anchiornis Huxleyi - confirm the bird-dinosaur theory is correct.

"These exceptional fossils provide us with the evidence that has been missing until now. It all fits neatly into place and we have tied up the loose ends." he says.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Anchiornis is officially described in a paper in the journal Nature for the first time today. The type specimen is exceptionally well preserved, with long feathers covering its arms tail and feet, suggesting that a four-winged stage may have existed in the transition to birds.

The idea that birds might have evolved from theropod dinosaurs comes from the striking anatomical similarities between them. Notably the three-toed foot, light hollow bones, and furcula or wishbone. More recent evidence shows that birds and dinosaurs shared behavioural traits like brooding and nesting.

Victorian scientists were well aware of these similarities from the fossil record, but the tipping point came with the discovery of Archaeopteryx in a Bavarian quarry in 1860. With its well developed wings and feathered plumage it was clearly a bird. But it also had claws on its arms and a long bony tail.

Xu XingComing so soon after the publication of "On the Origin of Species" (in 1859), the discovery was quickly hailed as the missing link that proved Darwin's ideas about evolution right. Others claimed Archaeopteryx came too late in the fossil record.

The problem is that by plugging an apparent gap in the fossil record Archaeopteryx inevitably created new ones on either side. Until recently, there had been no intermediate fossils showing the steady step by step evolution of dinosaurs into birds either before or after archaeopteryx. A series of discoveries in the 1990's - many of them by Xu Xing - filled the more recent of these gaps. His latest finds, of feathered dinosaurs pre-dating archaeopteryx, complete the picture.

So next time you watch a robin flitting around in the garden, or listen to a blackbird singing, think Allosaurus or even Velociraptor.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "Proof positive - if proof were needed - that birds evolved from dinosaurs will be unveiled in Bristol today."

    This is evidence not proof. Great, powerful, confirming evidence, but evidence never-the-less.

  • Comment number 2.


    Xu states:
    "These exceptional fossils provide us with the evidence that has been missing until now. It all fits neatly into place and we have tied up the loose ends."

    Any bird-brained person willing to believe this? The article fails to shout from the tree branches that whereas the bird Archaeopteryx (dated 140 - 150 million years old) could fly, and this alleged spectacular four-winged Anchiornis Huxleyi (dated 151+ million years) could not get off the ground. (Goggle: A pre-Archaeopteryx troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus, nature).

    It seems remarkable that it is alleged that within 1 to 10 million years (does the 151 million years look suspicious that they have made it up?) … a non-flying creature transformed itself into our friend Archaeopteryx a flying bird. When we look in the evolutionists Mrs Hubbard cupboard we find it is bare.







  • Comment number 3.

    Craig552uk
    Of course you're right. On the other hand if it looks like a duck, flies like a duck, and quacks like a duck....then it's probably anchiornis

 

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.