The Silky Serikornis Sungei Fossil Gives A Glimpse Into The Evolution Of Feathers

Exquisitely well-preserved feathered dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous of north-eastern China have considerably helped paleontologists to better understand how birds evolved from dinosaurs. It has been previously postulated that the emergence of feathers was driven by their aerodynamic properties but a new species, named Serikornis sungei “the silk bird”, provides new clues about how dinosaurs feathers evolved.

The little pheasant-sized dinosaur, which bears four wings (that is, two forewings and two hindwings) is mainly covered with simple feathers similar to the wispy bundles found in other dinosaurs like Sinornithosaurus. The first four-winged dinosaur, as known as Microraptor, was reported from the Tiaojishan Formation in Liaoning Province in 2000.

This Middle-Late Jurassic Formation has already provided other four-winged species such as Aurornis and Anchiornis, another basal dinosaur close to the transition between dinosaurs and birds. The plumage of Serikornis is well-preserved and the limbs bear short, slender, symmetrical, and poorly differentiated feathers similar to those of Anchiornis. In other words, the limb feathers attached to the arms and the legs of Serikornis are totally different from the flight feathers of modern birds.

Serikornis wasn’t a flier and its anatomy coupled to the macrostructure of the feathers indicate a terrestrial mode of life. Although the hindlimbs bear feathers, a feature often associated with the evolution of flight, they are not suited to sustain a flight. So the presence of leg feathers on a more archaic and grounded dinosaur imply that long leg feathers evolved in a terrestrial context. The structure of the pennaceous feathers also goes in that direction because of barbules, a structure that hook barbs together and which is essential to resist air pressure during the wing beat, are absent in Serikornis. This absence is corroborated by optical and electronic microscopy.

What does the plumage of Serikornis serve? It is postulated that the feathering of this little dinosaur may have primitively been used as a thermoregulatory system or as a social display even if it could not be ruled out that Serikornis was able to scramble up tree trunks with its sharp and recurved claws and parachute to the ground, using its plumage to slow down its descent.

The next step of the research will bring new information about how the terrestrial context has driven the emergence of flight among basalmost Jurassic paravians and how this emergence has played a major role on the diversification of ecological niches necessary to develop a modern-like type of flight.

These findings are described in the article entitled A new Jurassic theropod from China documents a transitional step in the macrostructure of feathers, published in the journal The Science of Nature. This work was led by Ulysse Lefèvre at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

About The Author

Ulysse Lefèvre

Ulysse Lefèvre is a Ph. D. Student at the University of Liège in the Department of Geology. his research interests include ecology, taxonomy, paleontology, and geology. He has a special interest in evolution and dinosaurs.

Speak Your Mind!

READ THIS NEXT

Stable Isotopes Reveal Sources Of Chinese Tap Water

How much do you know about your tap water? Does your tap water come from groundwater or surface water sources? Actually, it is not an easy task to identify the water sources using common chemical and biological methods. In the past decade, the stable hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios in tap water have aroused attention […]

The Role Of DDX3X In The Immune System

The innate immune system establishes a first-line defense against invading pathogenic microorganisms. The pathogens are sensed by dedicated antigen receptors. These receptors subsequently emit signals that reprogram cells of the immune system, preparing them for combat. Enabling cells to increase their immunological performance requires them to turn on sometimes hundreds of genes and repress others […]

Bubble Letters: Learn The Bubble Alphabet

If you want to turn everything you write into something fun, you should try bubble letters. Learning how to write bubble letters is both easy and fun. Why learn bubble alphabet? Bubble letter writing is a fun way to express fun ideas and can be used in art classes, brochures, fliers, posters, and more. Bubble […]

Incongruent Freshwater Lenses Of The River Murray Floodplains (Australia): Discovery Of A New Groundwater Phenomenon In Dry Riparian Zones

Groundwater hydrology is a mature research field. The idea of discovering a new type of groundwater system seems unlikely. Yet, in the floodplains of the River Murray system, freshwater lenses float on saline groundwater under conditions that seem, on first impression, counterintuitive and unfavorable for the persistence of fresh groundwater. In this research, a new […]

My Science Life: Dr. Bill Sullivan, Showalter Professor Of Pharmacology & Toxicology

Welcome to the My Science Life feature of Dr. Bill Sullivan, Showalter Professor at Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM), where he studies infectious disease. Bill has published over 70 papers in scientific journals and written for Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, Salon.com, GotScience.org, What Is Epigenetics, and more. He is writer and editor at […]

What Are The Spring Constant Units?

The spring constant is a mathematical parameter present in Hooke’s law, the mathematical law that describes the stored potential energy of a coiled or stretched spring. Hooke’s law, named after the English natural philosopher Robert Hooke who originally formulated the principle, states that the distance a spring is stretched or compressed is directly proportional to the applied […]

Cytoplasm Function

The function of cytoplasm is to act as the medium that fills your cells, it is a neutral jelly-like substance that acts to protect and house the cell parts within a cell. A cytoplasm is made up mostly of water and salt and is clear and colorless. All cells are filled with a jelly-like substance […]