Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
It has long been perceived that the modern-day bird evolved from the dinosaur millions of years ago. However, evidence from a new study published in the Journal of Ornithology has challenged this common belief.
After re-examining a bird-like fossil from China, it was discovered that it was not a dinosaur as first thought. Instead, it was a tree-climbing animal that could glide, according to researchers Stephen Czerkas from The Dinosaur Museum in Blanding, Utah and Alan Feduccia from the University of North Carolina.
The fossil in question is a Scansoriopteryx — meaning “climbing wing” — that was found in Inner Mongolia. It had been classified as a coelurosaurian theropod dinosaur from which the modern bird was believed to have evolved from. The new evidence was discovered when the researchers used advanced 3D microscopy, high resolution photography and low angle lighting, revealing new bone structures previously not visible. The pelvis, forelimbs, hind limbs and tail were confirmed, but elongated tendons on the tail vertebrae — similar to a Velociraptor — were discovered.
The duo say that the findings of the skeletal features lacks the essential features to classify it as a dinosaur, leading them to suggest birds did not evolve from the dinosaur. The Scansoriopteryx should be classified as an early bird whose ancestors are tree-climbing archosaurs that were around before the dinosaurs existed.
The new findings reveal many non-dinosaurian traits with distinct birdlike features. It has elongated forelimbs, wing and hind limb feathers, wing membranes, birdlike perching feet, claws for tree climbing and other birdlike features. This new evidence reveals the Scansoriopteryx is an early form of bird that developed the ability to glide from tree to tree.
In the early 1900s, predictions were made that the bird’s ancestors were tree dwelling small archosaurs with the ability to fly, or at least glide. The concept of “ground up” evolution of birds previously viewed is in direct contrast with the new evidence found by the study. A new view of “trees down” is now being applied to the evolution of birds.
“The identification of Scansoriopteryx as a non-dinosaurian bird enables a reevaluation in the understanding of the relationship between dinosaurs and birds. Scientists finally have the key to unlock the doors that separate dinosaurs from birds,” explained Czerkas.
“Instead of regarding birds as deriving from dinosaurs, Scansoriopteryx reinstates the validity of regarding them as a separate class uniquely avian and non-dinosaurian,” Feduccia added.
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