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Big birdosaur blues

New fossil creates problems for dino-to-bird evolution


Image by Li Rongshan/IVPP, Nature 447:844–847 Gigantoraptor in comparison with a man.
Estimated size of Gigantoraptor in comparison with a man, from Xu et al.3. All that was found of Gigantoraptor by Xu et al.3 is indicated in white in this diagram. Note that no feathers were found, only a subset of the bones. Click here for larger view.

The media has recently been buzzing with the latest claims of a dino-to-bird missing link, a 1,400-kg so-called ‘bird-like dinosaur’ from China dubbed Gigantoraptor erlianensis (meaning ‘giant thief from Erlian’ [a city in Inner Mongolia in China]).1,2 However, when you look at the report in Nature,3 you find that Gigantoraptor has done more to confuse evolutionists than confirm dino-to-bird evolution.

First, the sheer size of Gigantoraptor presents a problem for the orthodox dino-to-bird story, which the researchers themselves admit:3

‘Interestingly, the comparatively less “bird-like” species of most coelurosaurian sub-groups … are in general larger in size than the more “bird-like” species of each clade, unlike the situation … where the gigantic Gigantoraptor independently evolved many “bird-like” features absent in its smaller relatives.’4

In most dinosaur lineages that are supposed to be closely related to birds, it’s the smaller dinosaurs that are more birdlike.5 However, Gigantoraptor reverses this trend. It exhibits more birdlike characteristics than any of its supposed closest relatives, yet it is 300 times larger than any of them.6 This is explained by invoking homoplasy,7 which is nothing but a last ditch effort by evolutionists to keep this fossil under the evolutionary umbrella when it just doesn’t fit.8

Gigantoraptor has been portrayed as a dinosaur with feathers, both by the researchers3 and the media.1,2 Xu et al. even go so far as to say that their feathers were used for protecting eggs during brooding.3,7 However, their reasons for believing that Gigantoraptor had feathers are nothing more than speculation because no feathers were found with the fossil. Note, no feathers were found!

They assume Gigantoraptor had feathers because its apparent closest relatives, Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx, appear to have feathers.5 However, the status of these two fossils as dinosaurs is disputed. Some believe them to be flightless birds based on the feathers and other anatomical evidence.9 Since Gigantoraptor3 appears to have more birdlike features than even Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx, it may in fact be a bird, in which case one would expect it to have feathers without having to postulate feathered dinosaurs. Therefore, to assume that they are feathered dinosaurs in order to prove they had feathers is not only begging the question, it also ignores other possible paths to the same conclusion.

However, no amount of speculative reasoning will prove that Gigantoraptor had feathers. Even though Gigantoraptor is said to be a close relative of Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx, it would still have been about 300 times their size, and it possesses many unique features that set it apart from them both. Therefore, unless we actually find a Gigantoraptor fossil with feathers attached we cannot know if it had feathers and all claims that it did are speculation.

Moreover, Gigantoraptor doesn’t fit the evolutionary timeline for dino-to-bird evolution. That means—even on their own terms—it’s nothing more than a dead-end branch of the evolutionary tree. Gigantoraptor was found in strata ‘dated’ as Upper Cretaceous (85–65 million years ago),3 but Archaeopteryx, which is a recognizable bird, is dated at about 150 million years; and Confuciusornis, a beaked bird, supposedly existed 135 million years ago. Therefore, Gigantoraptor can’t be classed as an intermediate between dinosaurs and birds because the dates are all wrong. This is a common problem in dino-to-bird theory; the dinosaurs that have the most birdlike features are younger than the first birds in the evolutionists’ own scheme.5

One thing we can agree on with the evolutionists is that they’ve found a unique creature that’s hard to fit into the traditional evolutionary picture. Gigantoraptor seems to be a new creature, which provides no problems for creationists but creates headaches for evolutionists trying to fit it into their conjectures on how dinosaurs evolved into birds. While the media have paraded Gigantoraptor as yet another feather in the cap of dino-to-bird evolution, by the evolutionists’ own admission the feathers are missing and Gigantoraptor is eating the cap.

Published: 11 July 2007


  1. Owen, J., Massive birdlike dinosaur unearthed in China, National Geographic News, 13 June 2007. Return to Text.
  2. MacLeod, C., Giant bird-like dinosaur stirs debate, USA Today, 13 June 2007. Return to Text.
  3. Xu, X., Tan, Q., Wang, J., Zhao, X. and Tan, L., A gigantic bird-like dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of China, Nature 447:844–847, 14 June 2007. Return to Text.
  4. Xu et al., ref. 3, Supplementary information, p. 3. Return to Text.
  5. Woodmorappe, J., Bird evolution: discontinuities and reversals, J. Creation 17(1):88–94, 2003. Return to Text.
  6. Xu et al., ref. 3, p. 846. Return to Text.
  7. Homoplasy is the idea that unrelated creatures evolved similar traits independently; a rough synonym is convergence. See Xu et al., ref. 4. Return to Text.
  8. For further discussion, see Jaroncyk, R. and Doyle, S., Gogonasus—a fish with human limbs? J. Creation 21(1):48-52, 2007 (See a previous version here: creation.com/gogo); Doyle, S., No-brainer for whales, 24 January 2007. Return to Text.
  9. Maryanska, T., Osmolska, H. and Wolsan, M., Avialan status for Oviraptorosauria, Acta Paleontologica Polonica 47(1):97–116, 2002; Gibbons, A., Dinosaur fossils, in fine feather, show link to birds, Science 280:2051, 1998; Camp, A.L., On the alleged dinosaurian ancestry of birds, 1998–2000. Return to Text.