When there’s no time for anything else, at least I can recycle text from the aborted field-guide (see bottom for previous excerpts). Hmm, I really should get that published. Anyway…
Protopteryx fengningensis was named in 2000 for two specimens discovered in the Yixian Formation of Fengning County, northern China [adjacent figure from Zhang & Zhou (2000): the tail feather shown in C belongs to Confuciusornis, not Protopteryx]. It’s an enantiornithine about the same size as a modern starling. As is common among Cretaceous birds, it had teeth in both its premaxillae and dentaries. Its snout was pointed, its foot claws were long and curved, and its metacarpal and carpal bones were not fused together. The latter is a primitive feature and one of several which indicate that Protopteryx was outside the clade that included the ‘more advanced’ enantiornithines. All three of its fingers had small curved claws and – as in modern birds and some other feathered maniraptorans – the thumb supported an alula.
Down feathers and flight feathers covered the body and wings of Protopteryx, but what makes it unusual are the two elongate central tail feathers, each of which is about as long as the head, neck and body combined [adjacent reconstruction from here]. Similar structures have more recently been described in Dapingfangornis sentisorhinus Li et al., 2006 and Paraprotopteryx gracilis Zheng et al., 2007. Because these feathers lack barbs they superficially recall gigantic scales, leading some experts to suggest that they represent an early stage in feather evolution (Zhang & Zhou 2000). However, some living birds possess long display feathers which also look scale-like or even recall strips of plastic, so this conclusion does not necessarily follow.
It’s probably only a matter of time before someone works out what colour these structures were in life: the integumentary structures of Sinosauropteryx, Anchiornis and Psittacosaurus have all recently been reported to preserve their original pigments.
Ref – -
Zhang, F. & Zhou, Z. 2000. A primitive enantiornithine bird and the origin of feathers. Science 290, 1955-1959.
For other articles on Mesozoic birds see…
- Tet Zoo picture of the day # 24 [on archaeopterygids]
- The new Crato Formation enantiornithine
- A stunning new Mesozoic bird… well, new-ish
- Epidexipteryx: bizarre little strap-feathered maniraptoran
- Long and Schouten’s Feathered Dinosaurs, a review
For previous bits and pieces from the aborted field guide project see…