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Feathered dinosaurs?

Have quill knobs and feathers been found on dinosaurs?

Published: 8 September 2018 (GMT+10)

Steven T. from US wrote the following comment on our movie review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Artist’s reconstruction of how Archaeopteryx may have appeared

I have read that the ‘raptors’ in Jurassic Park were called Velociraptor because Gregory Paul folded the genus Deinonychus into the genus Velociraptor in his 1988 book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World (he has since split them into two genera again).

Since the original book was written, several dromaeosaurid species roughly the size of the Jurassic Park ‘raptors’ have been discovered: Utahraptor, discovered around the time the first movie came out, Achillobator from Asia, and Dakotaraptor, which actually looks like a giant version of Deinonychus, and hence more like the “raptors” in the movies than other dromaeosaurids.

A fossil forelimb of Dakotaraptor shows quill knobs on the forearm similar to those of modern feathered birds. In general, the big dromaeosaurs like Dakotaraptor look like larger versions of feathered animals like Archaeopteryx and Microraptor, so it seems reasonable to suppose that they were likewise feathered.

Question: why are birds not dinosaurs? On your own principles, an eagle, a penguin, and a hummingbird do not share a common ancestor; they are not “birds” by virtue of being a single “kind”. Similarly, you don’t deny that birds are vertebrates, even though surely vertebrates are a plethora of distinct “kinds”.

Given that many theropods share similarities (e.g. hollow bones, bipedality, etc.) with modern birds that they do not share with other “dinosaurs” like Triceratops, why can both T. rex and Stegosaurus be “dinosaurs” but an ostrich or toucan cannot? It cannot simply be because birds were created on the fifth day while most dinosaurs were created on the sixth; by that standard whales and bats cannot be mammals.

CMI USA’s Joel Tay responds:

I am aware of the account of Gregory Paul’s role in the naming of Velociraptor. Actually, I own a more recent dinosaur encyclopaedia by Paul.1

There may have been multiple reasons why the name Velociraptor was used. Michael Crichton is reported to have told John Ostrom that he chose Velociraptor over Deinonychus as it sounded more dramatic. Why Velociraptor and not another dinosaur name? They are closely related and possibly from the same dinosaur kind. Taking into account Paul’s influence behind the film, Velociraptor sounded like a reasonable alternative.

If you are going to lecture us on our ‘own principles’, then you would do well to learn what they actually are! Speciation is not a problem for Biblical creation and it is an important aspect of the biblical creation model, so this diversity within each animal kind fits nicely with what we would expect—and what creationists expected even before Darwin! We have no idea why you would think that creationists believe that birds are a single created kind, when the Ark account explicitly specifies kinds (plural) of birds (Genesis 7:2–3).

You also raise the issue of homology, as if it clearly proves common ancestry rather than common design. But then, the ornithischian dinosaurs, including Triceratops and Stegosaurus that you mention, by definition have ‘bird-like hips’, but evolutionists assert that birds evolved from saurischians, i.e. ‘lizard hipped’ dinosaurs. So the common hip structure of birds and ornithischians must be homoplastic not homologous, supposedly the result of convergent evolution.

You mentioned that quill knobs have been found on Dakotaraptor and that this is evidence that they were feathered. Quill knobs are ligamental attachment sites for Sharpey’s fibres and are often found on some, but not all, flying birds, so if quill knobs have indeed been found, it suggests to some that some dinosaurs have feathers. However, I don’t believe that an unbiased examination of these tiny bumps on dinosaur bones supports the conclusion that these are quill knobs.

To understand why some evolutionists think that these tiny bumps are quill feathers requires a bit of background. Most evolutionists believe that dinosaurs evolved into birds. This was long before they had any evidence of ‘quill knobs’. Unfortunately, as we have often pointed out, presuppositions tend to colour the way the evidence is interpreted. In this instance, the desire to show that dinosaurs evolved into birds led many evolutionists to interpret tiny bumps on dinosaur bones as quill knobs—anchor sites for feathers.

So, what did they actually find? First, we need to note that no actual feathers have been found with these dromaeosaurs. What was first discovered were six extremely tiny bumps on the central third of a Velociraptor bone. These bumps on the Velociraptor bone appear to be far too smooth and too tiny when compared to the quill knobs of many birds today. They even had to be magnified for proper study. This is quite different from flying birds today that have prominent quill knobs (although the albatross lacks them). Unfortunately, many evolutionists jumped on this as proof that dromaeosaurs had feathers. From that time on, whenever evolutionists find these bumps on the arms of dromaeosaurs, it almost automatically gets interpreted as proof of feathers.

Second, not only are some of these tiny bumps too small to realistically represent real quill knobs, but in some cases the bumps on these bones are spaced too irregularly, and the direction of some of these so-called quill knobs even face the wrong direction. For example, in the case of Concavenator, the bumps seem to be on the lateral side of the ulna (towards the ‘outside’ of their arm), rather than to the back of their arm as expected if these knobs are attachment points for flight feathers.2 True quill knobs should also be evenly spaced, but these tiny bumps are often spaced irregularly in these dinosaurs.

Wikimedia commons/Josef Reischigbird-feather-2
Microscopic image of feathers

Unfortunately, evolutionists, driven by their assumption that these dinosaurs evolved into modern birds have, for the most part, ignored all these challenges and continued to interpret these tiny bumps as quill knobs. Dakotaraptor likewise display some of these bumps on their limbs, but if these bumps are not really quill knobs to begin with, then these cannot be proof of feathers. The evidence for feathered dinosaurs is very flimsy and based more on ideology rather than the evidence.

As we have pointed out previously, unlike evolutionists who have an incentive to prove that dinosaurs evolved into birds, creationists have no problems with God creating dinosaurs with feathers. We just do not believe the evidence currently leads us towards such a conclusion. Besides, birds have feathers all over their body, yet birds that fly only have quill knobs on certain parts of their wings, and these are the parts where particular feathers need to be strongly attached-on for flight. But dromaeosaurs had small arms and did not fly, so why should we interpret their tiny bumps as quill knobs?

More likely than not, these tiny bumps are not quill knobs, but are attachment sites for other structures. Thomas and Sarfati point out in a paper earlier this year:

In contrast, the supposed quill knobs on the few feathered dinosaur candidates with forearm tubercles have more variations in size, show irregular spacing, and instead of a neat row along the rear (caudal) ulna, are oriented at different angles along the bone. This latter feature means that if the tubercles were quill knobs, their attached feathers would stick out in places unfit for wings and possibly unfit for anything.3

Even the evolutionary palaeontologist Darren Naish, addressing what has been presented as quill knobs on Concavenator, admitted in his blog:

[A]nimals sometimes have weird, irregularly spaced tubercles arranged in lines on various of their bones, typically located on intermuscular lines (they presumably represent partially ossified attachment sites for tendinous sheets or similar structures): I’ve seen them on mammal bones and on a theropod tibia … .4

In other words, these bony structures are unlikely to be quill knobs. As mentioned in the movie review, we do not have problems with God creating dinosaurs with feathers, but the evidence just doesn’t seem to support such a conclusion.

References and notes

  1. Paul, G.S., Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, 2nd Edn, Princeton University Press, 2016. Return to text.
  2. Thomas, B., Do ‘Quill Knobs’ Show Dino-to-Bird Evolution? icr.org, 3 December 2015. Return to text.
  3. Thomas, B. and Sarfati, J., Researchers remain divided over ‘feathered dinosaurs’, J. Creation 32(1): 121–127, 2018. Return to text.
  4. Naish, D., Concavenator: an incredible allosaurid with a weird sail (or hump) … and proto feathers., scienceblogs.com, 9 September 2010. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Exploring Dinosaurs with Mr Hibb
by Michael Oard, Tara Wolfe, Chris Turbuck, Gary Bates
US $17.00
Hard Cover
The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $8.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Dan M.
As I understand it, Geneticists are finding reproductive barriers within DNA that prevent cross kind mutation as it applies to one kind of creature becoming another regardless of any number of hypothetical mutative steps. It has also long been known that different species of the same kinds can interbreed to produce hybrids, (some times fertile). It seems to me this would be better evidence that birds are not a mutation derived from lizards, (Dinosaurs) since this evidence involves empirical testable data? Are evolutionists postulating that these barriers are some new DNA trait that didn't exist in the past? If so, why would natural selection go this way if it is non intelligent and cannot make choices? Speciation appears to be pre-programmed into each kind which points to an intelligent creator. It seems to me evolutionists need to first answer this dilemma before postulating any kind of cross kind mutation hypothesis?
Joel Tay
We know that two creatures are of the same kind if they can hybridize, but I am not sure we the same applies the other way. That is, if they cannot hybridize, they are from a different kind. For example, we know that goats and sheep can hybridize and therefore they are the same kind. But not all sheep and goat can do this. If we just examine the incompatible ones, we might come to the wrong conclusion that they are from a different kind even though they are actually the same. As for dinosaurs, most evolutionists think that dinosaurs evolved from a different line as many reptiles today, and then from that dinosaur lineage, you can birds today. So in an evolutionary worldview, the distance between modern day reptiles and birds are quite distant, meaning that they would not necessarily be expected to hybridize (and we do not have good quality dinosaur DNA at this point in time to do a comparison—even though there has been several tests that detected the presence of dinosaur DNA.)
Joel E.
With much due respect, I think Joel Tay may have missed the point of Steven T's question. I'm not even certain Steven T thinks birds are related to dinosaurs (although the use of "you" instead of "we" is admittedly a hint). The main thrust was not about quill knobs, but about classification. Steven was asking why, in light of the many similarities between therapods and birds (quill knobs being an example), creationists object to classifying birds as dinosaurs. It seems a more appropriate way to address the question would be something like, "Dinosaurs don't have quill knobs, but even if they did, this is why we don't put birds in the same category as therapod dinosaurs." Please correct me if I'm wrong in understanding his question and your response.
Joel Tay
No. You are misreading what the inquiry is all about. He is saying that since dinosaurs have quill knobs (that is, it is assumed that they have feathers), why aren't birds classified together with dinosaurs. I pointed out that they do not have quill knobs and there is no good reason to believe that dinosaurs have feathers. The evidence for feathered dinosaurs is very flimsy. Rather, since these are not quill knobs, there is really no reason why you should group dinosaurs and birds together. The anatomy of birds and dinosaurs are very different.
James K.
The recent classification fiasco placing theropods and ornithischians together in a new order called “ornithoscelida” makes less sense. Hadrosaurs even have more than 3 fingers on their hands compared to the average theropod. This is significant because the similar number of digits has always been an argument for the relation between birds and theropods. With five fingered iguanodonts (including thumb spike) being placed close to theropods cladistically one sees a pattern of blatant ‘double standards’ in the evolutionary camp.
Also so what if dinosaurs had feathers? There’s a creature called the chalicothere which supposedly clusters close with artiodactyls (cows horses etc) yet walks on its knuckles like a gorilla and has claws like a sloth. Why such a creature is not interpreted as a missing link is purely because of rigid preconceived evolutionary dogma.
Joel Tay
The dino to bird digit numbering is problematic for evolution.

The following is lifted from Michael Oard's article: Did birds evolved from dinosaurs?

Bird and dinosaur limb digits differ in their development
Evolutionists argue for a link between dinosaurs and birds based on comparative morphology, even during embryonic development. Birds and dinosaurs have similar features, called ‘shared derived characteristics’ (see cladistics analysis below). However, a major morphological feature supports an opposite conclusion. During embryonic growth, bird limb digits developed from a five-finger arrangement into one that has only the second, third and fourth digits (II, III, IV). On the other hand, dinosaur growth exhibits a different embryonic pattern—I, II, III.77–79 The bird trend in the past had been a little uncertain but has been verified.80,81 This is powerful evidence as adduced by paleontologists.

One obvious interpretation of these data is that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs. However, those who refuse to accept that conclusion have developed the ‘frame-shift hypothesis’—part of avian evolution included a frame shift in the expression of the digits.82 During the transitions from dinosaurs to birds, the embryonic expression somehow shifted from I, II, and III to II, III, and IV. Unfortunately, bias and circular reasoning permeate this hypothesis:

“One solution to the problem of avian digit homology [similarity] in favor of the II, III, IV hypothesis is to assume that birds are not theropod dinosaurs … Removing birds from theropods implies that the similarities between the hands of Archaeopteryx and that of theropods are convergent and not homologous. This is, however, not a very satisfactory explanation for the available data [emphasis mine].”83

‘Frame shift’ advocates point to a theropod fossil discovered in China that hints at such a shift.84 But the dinosaur in question not only reduced digit I, but also IV and V, so that it only had two long digits. Proponents cannot find an ‘adaptive’ reason for the proposed shift either.81 I.e. there is no evolutionary advantage that would accrue from this shift. Nor is there any advantage to the intermediate steps required by this shift.

Feduccia asserts that there is no evidence for the frameshift hypothesis.51 James and Pourtless IV conclude that it was simply made up to explain away the digit contradiction by those that were adamant that birds evolved from dinosaurs:

“ … these data do not alter the logical status of the frame-shift hypothesis as an ad-hoc auxiliary hypothesis … It was introduced for the explicit purpose of restoring agreement between predictions of the BMT [birds are maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs] hypothesis and repeatedly obtained falsifying observations.”85

Despite all this, Chiappe steadfastly maintains his faith in a dinosaur origin for birds, but his analysis is not convincing.86 This type of reasoning is why many critics say evolution cannot be falsified.
Alexander L.
"Artist’s reconstruction of how Archaeopteryx may have appeared" art work of this sort is wishful thinking, the evolutionist desperately want this strange "creature" to be a transitional form.

I do not think anyone truly knows what this thing is, "Is it a genuine fossil" or is it just another hoax.
Joel Tay
Archaeopteryx is clearly a perching bird capable of flight. While it is a from an order of extinct birds, it does not have any traits that are unique to dinosaurs, but it has many traits that are unique to birds. Hence, it is correctly identified as a bird.
Roseanne A.
What Steven T is not getting is that Speciation is just not a problem for creation rather tht is wht we need by loss of information, mutation and reproduction...As been cleared several rimes by CMI that as Archeoptryx first known to be the *first* bird while then as this claim got down the next was it is a feathered dino which also proved to be fatal as it is clearly seen to be a perching bird with a significant extended vertebrae which is seen that the tail is undifferentiated with the soft tissues showing that we hve to be skeptical abt the tail... The most famous ones the i know of as a featherwd dino was Sinosauropteryx which showed to hve collengen fibres in its fossil.... and yet again this another claim...... Evolutionist will never stop claiming dino to bird evolution even if the evidences strongly shows something else
Steven T.
Thank you for your response to my comment.

I understand your position on "kinds" and speciation; my point was that you recognize large categories (e.g. mammals, or vertebrates, that you do not regard as "kinds," and there seems no particular reason you could not call birds "dinosaurs" as easily as you call whales, "mammals."

Despite the name, ornithischians don't really have "bird hips" (and this has been noted for a long time: decades ago, when birds were not thought to have evolved from dinosaurs, I read a book on dinosaurs that noted this). Modern birds (and ancient birds like Archaeopteryx), have "reptile hips" with the pubic bone bent backwards (in a sort of "C"-shape) towards the ischium, rather than straight and parallel to the ischium as in the so-called "bird-hipped" dinosaurs. This same "opisthopubic" hip structure is seen in dromeosaurs like Velociraptor.

Concavenator is regarded by evolutionist paleontologists as a carnosaur, more closely related to Allosaurus than to birds. The "birds are dinosaurs" idea could accommodate the idea that Concavenator had pennaceous (fully-developed) feathers, but it would require that such feathers appeared much earlier in dinosaur evolution than is commonly thought, so most evolutionists would be happy if its "knobs" turned out to be unrelated to feathers. As for Dakotaraptor, given that some birds known to have feathers don't show quill knobs, and that no one would expect a half-ton animal to be capable of flight, so we wouldn't expect quill knobs as well-defined as in some flying birds.
Joel Tay

1. If you had read my article more closely, you would read the article I linked to by Brian Thomas which explains that there are clear unique traits between birds and dinosaurs that indicate that these are two very distinct creatures. E.g. mentioned in the article is the completely perforate acetabulum which is a diagnostic trait of dinosaurs, but which is missing in birds. We do not have any example of a dinosaur (completely perforated acetabulum) with real feathers. Hence, it is contrary to good science to conflate dinosaurs and birds as one. In the same way, it would be ridiculous to group reptiles and mammals as one just because they shares certain homologous characteristics, but that is exactly what you are doing when you call dinosaur, birds. Dinosaurs and birds display unique diagnostic characteristics not shared between both groups. If you had read the article I linked, this should have been clear.

2. The two classification on hips were first coined by evolutionists, not creationists. So this is an evolutionary problem, not a creationist problem. And this classification is still used widely today. Evolutionists had to backtrack from this several times, not creationists, who point out that bird hips are actually very different from that of dinosaurs (e.g. dinosaurs have a completely perforate acetabulum). You are also wrong about extant birds having a reptile-like hip. They actually have a hip that more closely resemble a bird-like hip compared to a lizard-hip.

But of course, the dinosaurs that have a bird-like hip are the dinosaurs that evolutionists do not believe evolved into birds, so they have to appeal to a story of how a lizard-like hip evolved into a bird-like hip in extant birds. So they explain this via not homology, but by means convergent evolution, where the lizard-like hip went on to evolve a similar appearance as a bird-like hip, and although they look like bird-like hip, they insist it developed from the lizard-like route. In other words, they propose that the hip evolved twice independently even though they lack fossil evidence for this. The appear to convergent evolution is an attempt to save their dinosaur-to-bird theory. Then they went about to see how they can to explain this from the fossil record via confirmation bias.

3. It is untrue that evolutionists did not believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs decades ago. On the contrary, evolutionists have been teaching that birds evolved from dinosaurs as far back as Thomas Huxley in 1868. Later on Harry Seeley came along and classified dinosaurs into bird-like and lizard-like hips, and because that was contrary to what evolutionists expect, evolutionists had to appeal to convergent evolution as a means of explaining why the reptile-like hip ones rather than the bird-like hip ones gave rise to birds. So evolutionists assumed dinosaurs evolved into birds long before they had any of the evidence we have today, and this coloured their interpretation of the data today. You are also confused over the archaeopteryx ‘hip’ vs. most extant birds. The two are quite different (c.f. Alan Feduccia’s Riddle of the feathered dragon, p.81, 2012, for a comparison.) And Archaeopteryx despite being an extinct order of birds, is regarded by most evolutionists today to be a side chain unrelated to the evolution of extant birds, so your point is not only confused, it is also irrelevant to the issue. Furthermore, archaeopteryx is believed by most evolutionists to be older than the first ancestor of extant birds today. Lastly, most Dromaeosaurs have a lizard-like (saurischian) hip, not a hip like extant birds today. Contrary to what you claim, velociraptor has a lizard-like hip that is very different from extant birds today that have, by definition, a bird hip.

4. As for Dakotaraptor, given that many flight bird today do not even have quill knobs even when they can fly (they are only present in certain parts of the wing that experiences high stress and the need for strong attachment of specific feathers), you will not expect to see any quill knobs in Dakotaraptor even if they had non-flight feathers. So obviously the bumps cannot be quill knobs, and as we have mentioned, they do not even resemble quill at all! Rather, the extremely tiny bumps fit well as connective tissue sites that have nothing to do with feathers. It betrays an underlying desire to massage the feathered-dinosaur theory into the data even when the evidence does not lead to such a conclusion. Again, as the paper I linked to (which you would have known if you read it) said, “Why must these fossil bone bumps carry quill knob status when they fail to match avian quill knobs?”

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