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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 $16.00
Soft Cover