"Feathered" Dinosaur Was Bald, Not Bird Ancestor, Controversial Study Says

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
June 1, 2007

A shadow of doubt has been thrown over the widely held theory that dinosaurs had feathers and that they gave rise to modern birds.

In a new study, researchers examined the fossil of a 140-million-year-old turkey-size dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx.

Other experts had previously concluded that distinctive patterns found on the skin of a Sinosauropteryx fossil were remnants of downy protofeathers, making the species the most primitive feathered dinosaur.

But the new team says that their analysis shows that the creature was actually bald.

The patterns are the remains of "structural fibers, probably collagen—the most abundant fiber in vertebrates—of the skin and the dorsal frill," said lead study author Theagarten Lingham-Soliar of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

The findings were published last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Lingham-Soliar and colleagues' results support the arguments of a small but highly vocal group of scientists who say there's no evidence of dinosaurs ever having feathers.

"The existence of protofeathers in these dinosaurs was considered critical evidence that birds were derived from dinosaurs," said study co-author Alan Feduccia, a bird evolution expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"What we have shown is that there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that protofeathers existed in dinosaurs, period."

But the majority of scientists in the field are unconvinced.

"These people have been flogging the same horse for a long time," said Kevin Padian, curator of the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

"It is appalling that Proceedings B chose to publish this nonsense."

Continued on Next Page >>




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