Dino feather folly

Sinosauropteryx prima
Sinosauropteryx prima

By David Catchpoole

In 1996, a small dinosaur (Sinosauropteryx) fossil was reported as having a coat of filamentous structures,1 dubbed ‘dinofuzz feathers’. It was touted/proclaimed by many as definitive evidence of dino-to-bird evolution.

But a recent study by renowned ornithologist Alan Feduccia and his colleagues shows that these and other filamentous structures were not feathers or ‘protofeathers’.2 Instead, they were likely the remains of collagenous fibre ‘meshworks’ that reinforce the skin. In the light of this and other studies, Dr Feduccia says the continuing controversies over ‘feathered dinosaurs’ make no sense.3

Feduccia is an evolutionist, not a creationist. ‘We all agree that birds and dinosaurs had some reptilian ancestors in common,’ he says, ‘but to say dinosaurs were the ancestors of the modern birds we see flying around outside today because we would like them to be is a big mistake.’3

Feduccia is also well aware that creationists delight in demolishing the dino-bird idea. ‘The theory that birds are the equivalent of living dinosaurs and that dinosaurs were feathered is so full of holes that the creationists have jumped all over it, using the evolutionary nonsense of “dinosaurian science" as evidence against the theory of evolution,’ he said.3

One of the ‘holes’ is that the evolutionary time-line contradicts itself, as it dates ‘bird-like dinos’ (the supposed precursors of birds) millions of years after the famous fossil Archaeopteryx, which was a fully-fledged, fully developed flying bird, and even after the beaked bird Confuciusornis.4

As further fossils are discovered, it just gets more awkward. The discovery of the ‘exquisitely preserved’ Juravenator dinosaur fossil in Germany recently5 was ‘a big surprise’.6 Why? Because it had scales, yet it comes from a dinosaur family that evolutionists presumed to have feathers. Various imagined scenarios were offered as to the lack of feathers,7 but evolutionists were loath to question their own presumption—i.e. that it should have had feathers in the first place.

Feduccia laments that the publication and promotion of feathered dinosaurs by the popular press and by prestigious journals and magazines, including Science, Nature and National Geographic, means that opposing arguments are not being given a proper hearing.

‘With the advent of “feathered dinosaurs” we are truly witnessing the beginnings of the meltdown of the field of paleontology,’ he said. ‘Just as the discovery of a four-chambered heart in a dinosaur described in 2000 in an article in Science turned out to be an artefact,8 feathered dinosaurs too have become part of the fantasia of this field. Much of this is part of the delusional fantasy of the world of dinosaurs, the wishful hope that one can finally study dinosaurs at the backyard bird feeder.’3

As for his own favoured evolutionary scenario, Feduccia is cautious. ‘It is now clear that the origin of birds is a much more complicated question than has been previously thought.’3

What a pity that Dr Feduccia can’t yet accept that birds did not come from an evolutionary lineage, but were created to reproduce ‘after their kind’, just as we see them doing today.

Published: 13 May 2006


  1. Gibbons, A., New feathered fossil brings dinosaurs and birds closer, Science 274(5288):720–721, 1996. Return to text.
  2. Feduccia, A., Lingham-Soliar, T., and Hinchliffe, J.R., Do feathered dinosaurs exist? Testing the hypothesis on neontological and paleontological evidence, Journal of Morphology 266(2):125–166, 10 October 2005 (DOI: 10.1002/jmor.10382); see abstract. Return to text.
  3. Williamson, D., Latest study: scientists say no evidence exists that therapod dinosaurs evolved into birds, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Release, 8 March 2006. Return to text.
  4. See: Sarfati, J., New four-winged feathered dinosaur? Return to text.
  5. Göhlich, U., and Chiappe, L., A new carnivorous dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Solnhofen archipelago, Nature 440(7082):329–332, 2006. Return to text.
  6. Xu, X., Scales, feathers and dinosaurs, Nature 440(7082):287–288, 2006. Return to text.
  7. German dino find clouds picture of feather evolution, CBC News, 28 March 2006. Return to text.
  8. See: Catchpoole, D., Dinosaur heart update: just a lump of mud?, 14 October 2000. Return to text.