Best evidence yet that dinosaurs used feathers for courtship

Jan 04, 2013

A University of Alberta researcher's examination of fossilized dinosaur tail bones has led to a breakthrough finding: some feathered dinosaurs used tail plumage to attract mates, much like modern-day peacocks and turkeys.

U of A Paleontology researcher Scott Persons followed a chain of evidence that started with a peculiar fusing together of vertebrae at the tip of the tail of four different species of dinosaurs, some separated in time and evolution by 45 million years.

Persons says the final vertebrae in the tails of a group of dinosaurs called oviraptors were fused together forming a ridged, blade-like structure. "The structure is called a pygostyle" says Persons. "Among modern animals only birds have them."

Researchers say fossils of Similicaudiptery, an early oviraptor, reveals feathers radiating from the fused bones at the tail tip. Similicaudiptery was not known to be a flying dinosaur and Persons contends its evolved as a means of waving its feathered tail fans.

No direct of feathers has been found with the fossils of the oviraptors that followed Similicaudiptery, but Persons says there is still strong evidence they had a feathered tail.

Persons reasons that because the later oviraptor had the same tail structure as the feathered Similicaudipteryx, the tails of later oviraptors' still served the same purpose, waving feathered tail fans.

Persons says the hypothesis of oviraptor tail waving is supported by both the bone and of the tail.

Individual vertebrae at the base of an oviraptor's tail were short and numerous, indicating great flexibility. Based on dissections of modern reptile and bird tails, Persons reconstruction of the dinosaur's tail muscles revealed oviraptors had what it took to really shake their tail feathers.

Large muscles extended far down the tail and had a sufficient number of broad connection points to the to propel oviraptor's tail feathers vigorously from side to side and up and down.

Oviraptors were two-legged dinosaurs that had already gone through major diversifications from the iconic, meat eating dinosaur family. Oviraptors were plant eaters that roamed parts of China, Mongolia, and Alberta during the Cretaceous period, the final age of the dinosaur.

"By this time a variety of dinosaurs used feathers for flight and insulation from the cold, "said Persons. "This shows that by the Late Cretaceous dinosaurs were doing everything with feathers that modern birds do now," said Persons.

In addition to feathered-tail waving, oviraptors also had prominent bone crests on their head, which Persons says the dinosaur also may have used in mating displays.

"Between the crested head and feathered-tail shaking, oviraptors had a propensity for visual exhibitionism," said Persons.

Explore further: Search continues at ancient Greek burial mound (Update)

More information: Persons, a University of Alberta PhD candidate in paleontology was the lead researcher on the paper which was published Jan. 4 in the international journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

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User comments : 6

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Caliban
2 / 5 (9) Jan 04, 2013
Now, that's what I call Science!

From similar structural evidence this clown infers to the point of insistence that this animal had a fancy tail feather display employed during mating.

Seems reasonable enough, on its face.

Unfortunately, time and time again we see structures evolve to have very different functions than originally.

Perhaps these supposed tail feathers were --in the case of this earlier animal-- used to keep the rain off of its head...

Or, maybe they were poison-tipped defensive appendages...

My point being that this scientist is using very flawed assumptions to arrive at this "conclusion".

He should confine himself to saying that, based upon his interpretation of the fossil evidence, and its similarity to later structures we are familiar with, it is his opinion that this tail was likely to have sported an elaborate feathered display used to attract a mate.

Science should come before making a name for oneself.

VendicarD
4 / 5 (4) Jan 04, 2013
Caliban doesn't understand what evidence is.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (5) Jan 04, 2013
If there is a clown here, it is the person who calls a paleontologist a clown merely for doing his work. Persons presented a hypothesis for a trait, and he tested it by finding mechanisms that supported the hypothesis.

Your first so called hypothesis isn't testable. The second isn't likely, seeing how not even modern birds have evolved such a complex trait.

Persons is, it seems, looking for adaptive pathways leading up to the feather use we see in modern birds. Early use for display was feasible, already before finding out Similicaudiptery had specific adaptations for it.
Anda
1.7 / 5 (3) Jan 04, 2013
@caliban, you're not only an ignorant person, but a fucking idiot :)
Caliban
1 / 5 (2) Jan 04, 2013
Haha-- I see I've ignited some comment here.

Maybe I didn't make myself clear.

My intention was to point out that there is a very big difference between developing a likely hypothesis, and declaring it as a fact.

Rrom my reading of this article, Pr. Persons has done both.

VendicarD
5 / 5 (3) Jan 04, 2013
It has not been declared a fact. It is simply a theory, and this article reports evidence supporting that theory.

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