The Mesozoic was inhabited by some strange-looking critters, and here’s another example: a Jurassic dinosaur called Epidexipteryx, which has spiky teeth, big claws, fluffy feathers all over its body, and four long decorative feathers coming off a stumpy tail. It resembles a particularly ugly bird with a nasty bite, but it couldn’t fly — none of the feathers covering its forelimbs are pennaceous, but are more like an insulating fur. Or, alternatively, its feathers were all about display, a possibility suggested by the odd long feathers of the tail. Here are the bones; as you can see, the integument is remarkably well preserved, with a scruffy ruff of short, non-shafted feathers over the body and limbs, and a surprising spray of just four very long feathers coming off the tail.
And here’s what it would have looked like in life (only the colors are imaginary). It would have been about the size of a pigeon — I think a pack of these scurrying about New York’s Times Square would be both scenic and would quickly clean up the pigeon problem there.
For all the details, read the write-up on Tetrapod Zoology.
Zhang F, Zhou Z, Xu X, Wang X, Sullivan C (2008) A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers. Nature 455:1105-1108.
Hey that’s really interesting. It made me wonder how do they calculate what kind of skin/fur/feathers a creature had. Is it based on the displacement of dirt compared to the bones or is there more to it than meets the eye? There’s always something new to be learned. :)
(Sorry if that’s a newbish question, I guess my biology book would give an answer!)
Sophie Lagace says
That is just awesome. I don’t know why, but I’m utterly enthralled with that creature. :-)
Are you certain that’s not a jabberwocky?
Bjørn Østman says
It would be nice to know whether that’s a bird ancestor or not. I bet it isn’t, but I bet plenty of people would assume that it is.
What sounds better: the Raptor Peacock, or the Peacock Raptor?
The second one seems more accurate to me.
I wouldn’t count on this thing being able to take out a pigeon. It would give bugs, lizards, and mice a lot of trouble though.
It’s bigger than a shrew, but smaller than a stoat or fenec fox. I can’t think of a modern ground based predator this size. Anyone out there know of any?
Perhaps it could take down larger prey than I might think because it was bipedal.
uncle frogy says
great, wonderful, looks like a fun little “pet”
It has been some time since I studied Zoology, I have been amazed by pictures of prehistoric animals since I was a small child reading Life magazine on the floor.
A question has increasingly growing in my mind this post brings it to mind. It is that all the pictures are made from skeletons so we have no skin or skin covering to go by as to what the animals might have actually looked like. All we have is muscle attachment to give shape to the body all animals would look different if we drew them without knowledge of their skin not just birds with no feathers. That part, the skin , is guess work to a large part so I understand. I wonder what they actually looked like? How would that knowledge change how we understand them?
Alan Leipzig says
It’s stuff like this that makes teaching a class on dinosaurs great. There’s always new stuff to show the kids.
I’m with Bacopa. Most non-pack hunting predators avoid taking on prey of their own size or larger. Plus the dentition is weird so that I don’t know if this animal was predatory or even necessarily carnivorous. Those strange teeth located only on the distal ends of the mandible and maxilla are very curious. Anyone have any guesses about what Epidexipteryx might have eaten?
OMG, I’ve seen that bird before at a disco bar during the sixties. He certainly is an old fossil.
A Jurassic Sarah Heath McPalin???
Present-day fossil running for president???
Phillip Allen says
I vote for Peacock Raptor, or maybe Roadrunner Raptor. In any event, hella great animal!
@Bacopa: “I can’t think of a modern ground based predator this size. Anyone out there know of any?”
I think some of the mid-size lizards would fill the size niche. No mammals, though.
@Uncle froggy: “…we have no skin or skin covering to go by…”
There have been a few, recent finds that have fossilized skin which provide clues to appearance. Inferences are made from modern related genera in much the same way that it is assumed that muscle attachment points on modern animals correlates to musculature of dinos, et al. When understood as a ‘best guess’ and not received wisdom it can help expand possible understanding of appearance and behavior.
I’ve seen that bird before somewhere.
Sven DiMilo says
Small weasels and any number of lizards and snakes.
The green frog says
Hello. There are some alternative reconstructions of Epidexipteryx from the friends of Paleofreak.
The page is in spanish (sorry), but the images justify all. I got specially stunned by Pancho´s alternative view.
If I’m not mistaken, they’ve found not only skin pattern imprints, but actual mummified dinos with skin intact.
I can’t give any real details from memory but a quick google should do it.
I believe, when it comes to feathers, they primarily rely on imprint around the fossil.
Glen Davidson says
Seems that every time we have the right fossil evidence, gradual evolutionary development is more than a little obvious.
There’s nothing especially new here, other than direct evidence of pre-avian feathers being used for display–which wasn’t really in much doubt. But it’s another small sherd in the pottery that is evolution.
Hairy Doctor Professor says
I think a pack of these scurrying about New York’s Times Square would be both scenic and would quickly clean up the pigeon problem there.
Yes, but then you would still have the packs of these guys to deal with after the pigeons were gone. (Minocs, chewing on the power cables…..)
Darth Wader says
I heard that feathers were irreducibly complex. So you must be wrong.
Makes me think of creationist arguments that dinosaurs must be in lower stratum because they were big, and sunk faster, or something. It seems to elude them that dinosaurs came in all sizes.
Really large flocks of these things running around Times Square might take care of the homeless population too.
I was struck by the odd title of the Nature paper. As a reviewer I would have taken issue with the term “bizarre”. Doesn’t sound very sciency to me and sounds more like something from the National Enquirer. Besides, who defines what’s bizarre ? Looks like just another example of the great kaleidoscope of life to me. Nothing bizarre about that.
Brad D says
Polly want a steak!
I don’t like their color scheme, but it’s just about as likely as any other I suppose.
Nah, obviously this is a jub-jub bird.
Stoats are small weasels. Perhaps I should have called them ermines. Still, stoats are way heavier than this guy.
I thought about snakes, but they are so specialized I thought the comparison useless. This critter doesn’t seem to be a low-energy lay in wait kind of guy.
Can’t say I know that much about lizards, but Epidexy is bigger than large geckos, and smaller than monitors. And again lizards are pretty laid back. Epidexy has to get out there and eat, eat, eat, to support his warm blooded body.
Brian D says
I find it interesting that this issue of Nature’s getting a lot of exposure in the press, almost entirely due to the paper mentioned here. However, Nature’s site lists a story about getting X-rays from Scotch tape as its key headline, which isn’t getting much attention in the popular press.
Does this mean that biology’s considered ‘cooler’ by the press than physics, or is the dinosaur just that ‘bizarre’?
It almost seems to be saying, “I can’t fly, you jerk! But I will eat you!”
Tim Fuller says
It was during the year 2023 when man first got the ability using regenerative DNA techniques to recreate these magnificent creatures. Set loose on the rampant domestic pigeon population of New York they quickly neutralized the cooing creatures.
But, as is often the case in these attempts at artificial control of natural habitat, things quickly went awry. A chance mating with a receptive Komodo dragon quickly led to a beast with a larger girth and an appetite for the nation’s beloved pet population. With the exception of all but the gnarliest mastiffs, loose pets, like loose pigeons, became so much dino dinner. This resurrected prehistoric demon-beast come Komodo killer savored the taste of pet meat to the extent that it became unsafe to even be with a dog or cat outdoors.
Of course the population did their best to contain the growing menace, but the OBAMA nation was in control, and wetlands preservation and feel-good politics (can’t shoot the bastards from a helicopter?? WTF!!) made containing the creatures all but futile. Like the pigeons they were meant to contain, the Epiterrorixs had taken to every nook and cranny of modern American living. Highly suspicious and fearful of man, there was never a documented attack on a person, even if Grandma was still traumatized at seeing little Sparky chewed to bits on the end of the leash she was using to walk him. Cats and dogs soon lost their lives and status as favored American pets, their care and protection being too arduous for most people to deal with. The Zoo still keeps a representative sampling in full protective cages for those curious about the species.
Noting that the nasty creatures were ambivalent towards hominids, people started keeping small monkeys as pets since, like themselves, the specialized predators didn’t seem to bother them. It was through this route, not some FICTIONALIZED virus epidemic, that man first turned to chimps and apes as pets. Now I sit in this cage and as my captor reaches for me I scream, “Get your hands off me you damn dirty ape”.
Greg @ #5:
“Raptocock”, of course. I expect to see a re-created fight to the death between our Raptocock and a particularly butch representative of the NY pigeon population on “Jurrasic Fight Club” this week. Then we shall truly know all there is to know about this fascinating animal.
Dang, sometimes I think I was born 6000 years too late. I sure wish I could’ve been born back when the dinosaurs walked around with humans ;) so I could’ve seen this little fell’r. Brraaaacckkkk… Polly want a lizard, Polly want lizard.
Love it, thanks.
If it had a red topknot I’d swear it was… Janine.
Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM says
Very nice Tim.
The hands in that reconstruction bug me. This guy is, I assume, a Maniraptoran dinosaur, which means it would have a semi-lunate carpal in the wrist, which wold restrict movement of the wrist to the lateral plane (side-to-side motion of the wrist only). Meaning the wrist would not be able to bend in the direction of the palm as shown in that (otherwise striking) rendering without breaking the wrist.
[deactivate age of dinos TA mode]
Gregory Kusnick says
I’m guessing the pose is imaginary too. Is there any evidence that it actually ran with its arms outstretched like that, rather than folded against its chest?
This guy was estimated to weigh 164 grams. That’s well within the stoat weight range. And least weasels are usually under 100 g.
So do weasels.
Epidexipteryx and Ralph Macchio are gonna put some Kung Fu on yo’ ass.
@ 7, 12, and 16
There are actually many known examples of fossilized dinosaur skin–well, the impression of it, to be precise. And yes, some of these are known from large portions of very well preserved individuals, though the term mummy is really a misnomer. It was once thought that to acheive such preservation, the animal would have to have dried out (like a mummy) before burial. But it is more likely that the exceptional preservation of these individuals is due to rapid burial under the right conditions, rather than prolonged exposure and dessication (especially considering they were not preserved in the extremely dry environments it would take to produce such natural mummies).
Greg Peterson says
If you haven’t seen it yet, a book that came out about two months ago, “Feathered Dinosaurs, The Origin of Birds,” is stunningly good. It’s like James Audubon went back in time tens of millions of years and painted what he saw:
Actually, it reminds me a little of the Calormene Tash from “The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis.
There’s a joke in there somewhere, if someone can find it…
I love the pictures, especially the one here. Made me giggle, for some reason.
(Nature or Nova or one of the other nature shows on PBS recently had a feature on ugly animals. I laughed through almost the entire thing, especially the segment about the star-nosed mole.)
s/Calormene Tash/Calormene god, Tash/
The Swiss says
Beautiful and nasty! Just like the name they gave it.
#22, I agree that a scientific paper with “bizarre” in its title sounds… bizarre. I wonder how they justify that.
That looks like a pre-fall munching foul, close relative to the Crocoduck. Note the long clutching arm watchamacallits for collecting scraps of coconuts dropped by T-Rex.
Definitely early Eden era, 4398 BC, give or take a few weeks.
Note the Red White and Blue plumage with a yellow tail, probably a liberal.
How long can you tread water? ugly little bird
Graeme Elliott says
Anyone interested should check out the post at Tetrapod Zoology!
I think most of the questions posed here have been answered over there…
Re. bizarre: It merely means that this specimen is unusual in an unexpected way. We expect difference in the fossil record, however this specimen is remarkably different from contemperaneous species. I guess it has to be measured against the known palaeofauna in an area.
@1: I’m no scientist, but just click the first picture for a larger version, and look on the right side… you can clearly see an impression of feathers.
windy @ 36: This guy was estimated to weigh 164 grams. That’s well within the stoat weight range. And least weasels are usually under 100 g.
Stoats(Ermines) that live in areas without Least Weasels only grow to to ~70 grams, half the size of the egg-sucker shown above.
I doubt the little dino-bird could take a weasel in a death match. We’ve kept ferrets for years, they are an EXTREMELY tame domesticated Mustelidae, and they are pretty fierce.
They are friendly with house apes, but we have a tiny runt female who absolutely terrorizes two full grown cats.
When the food bowl is empty, I fill it and the cats rush in, then the ferret gets a whiff and pokes her nose out from under the sofa where she nests, then bum-rushes the cats. There is a great deal of swatting and hissing and ferret chirping but she always prevails and the cats wait patiently for her to finish.
It’s the funniest goddam thing you ever saw, that ferret might be 1/20th their size, it’s all intimidation and ferocity,
I go into hysterics every time I see it.
“The hands in that reconstruction bug me. This guy is, I assume, a Maniraptoran dinosaur, which means it would have a semi-lunate carpal in the wrist, which wold restrict movement of the wrist to the lateral plane (side-to-side motion of the wrist only). Meaning the wrist would not be able to bend in the direction of the palm as shown in that (otherwise striking) rendering without breaking the wrist”
A semi-lunate carpal alone is not responsible for the almost singular movement of the manus in birds. Basal birds and non-avian theropod dinosaurs with semilunate carpals in their wrist would have had a much larger range of movement than seen in modern fliers. I will go into detail if you desire to know why.
@18 Then we’d send in wave after wave of Chinese Needle Snake.
RE: Lago @ #48
Admittedly, yes, the movement of the manus in derived avians is reliant on more than just the semilunate carpal, but the semilunate carpal is still involved with the restriction of movement to a singular plane. More movement allowable in basal birds and non-avian maniraptorans? Oh, sure.
I would still argue that the wrist position shown in the artist reconstruction above is likely too extreme for a maniraptoran with a semilunate carpal, though. The left wrist doesn’t look too bad, most of the flexure is in the knuckles. The right is the one that looks most off to me, but I admit it might be a trick of perspective.
Grendels Dad says
I’m sure it’s just the illustration that makes me think it’s a karatekidosaur (Ralphmacchio karatekidesi asiaticus?)
I kinda want one. If scientists someday recreate this, PZ, can you hook me up with one? Better yet, give me a pack of them. I can let them loose on the door-to-door “solicitors” around here. hehe
I’m quite glad modern birds have diverged a bit from this guy. Imagine walking through a forest and suddenly getting a faceful of cute, fuzzy, razor-taloned, ambush-hunting Dire Peacock. It looks like something a Wookie would keep as a pet.
Arnosium Upinarum says
PACKS of these? Man, I’d hate to have to shake those things off, gnawing at my arms and legs every time I stepped out to lunch. I’ll take my chances with the pigeon shit.
Central Park at night…I was going to say “safer, maybe”, but I changed my mind.
NICE little dinos…
It would be nice to know whether that’s a bird ancestor or not.
Unlikely – well, any fossil is an unlikely ancestor, but the proposed phylogeny puts it as just outside Aves, so further away from modern birds than Archaeopteryx, and since the latter is about the same age, we can probably rule out this one as an ancestor.
Note also the very shortened tail, not the pygostyle of modern birds, but certainly not the balancing organ of theropods. Also, good teeth for grabbing grubs and worms out of sand or crevices, a la some Pterodactylus reconstructions.
minimally off topic:
A wonderful herp was Pteranodon,
with pinyonless wings, not to flap along,
o’re Cretaceous seas a glider gone,
warm blooded with fur,
a reptile, sure.
Now I wonder where the halcyon.
Arnosium Upinarum says
#27: But they look as if they could leap, say, human adult-neck-or-face-high. And probably were pretty good at climbing or jumping into and out of trees even. Those long forelimbs have quite a reach for going after small prey, but that looks as if they are good at grasping considerably larger targets and going to work on them…it’s hard to tell in the reconstruction, but if they had good stereo vision, that would have assisted them in accurately determining their range to a target…
NICE little killing machines…can we be friends?
Looks like a Frimious Bandersnatch to me.
Are those prey grabbing claws, or tree climbing claws, or both?
“I would still argue that the wrist position shown in the artist reconstruction above is likely too extreme for a maniraptoran with a semilunate carpal, though. The left wrist doesn’t look too bad, most of the flexure is in the knuckles. The right is the one that looks most off to me, but I admit it might be a trick of perspective.”
I do agree that the hands are probably way off.
The problem is though, most of the aspects that would imply these actions to be wrong, are really not found in the bone in basal forms. We believe the basal semi-lunate indicates a certain range of movement, but, the bones we are dealing with in these basal forms actually could allow for a huge range of motion even much greater than what we see in the picture. We sorta infer from modern birds, who have a huge amount of restrictive traits in the wrist, that these animals did as well.
In other words, the traits found in modern bird osteology that restrict range of motion in the wrist, including those traits of the semi-lunate, are, either, not developed in these basal forms, or poorly developed, and other non-boney elements that would restrict movement are only hypothetical.
My opinion is the same as yours, but not due to actual osteological evidence of the semi-lunate.
Having had to be just a science spectator, I have to say that the discovery of feathered dinos has been one of the coolest things to witness in the last 20-ish years.
Bubba Sixpack says
I would love to have one for a pet. I’d train it to attack anyone who had a McCain/Palin bumper sticker.
Okay, maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but I might train it to attack anyone who mentioned Intelligent Design favorably.
In Mesozoic chicken has you for dinner….I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it.
Alan Kellogg says
I can tell you what the deal is with his wrists, the little guy is gay.
I’ve handled many kinds of doves, incliding pigeons, and a few kinds of weasels. But i;ve never seen stoats in real life and have no experience of “least weasels”. Most pix of stoats I’ve seen make them seem at least as large as three month old ferrets and sometimes a little larger. That’s much heavier than any type of dove.
OK, I take that back. I did a little Wikipedia search and found some weasels may be as small as Epidexy. I do not live in weasel country. Why are there so many weasels up north, but so few as you approach the tropics? Only common mustelid is the skunk around here and there may be a type of badger not too far away. We used to have coatis and ocelots. Maybe they kept the weasels from coming this far south.
Coatis are pretty common a couple hours south, but ocelots are much more rare. I think we need to establish a breeding colony of ocelots in the Tinsley Park/Flood control project near Downtown Houston. It’s overrun by rabbits and feral cats. Ocelots would solve both problems.
I ama megafauna restorationist. I believe that ecological problems in North America can be reversed by importing species comporable to those rendered extinct during the ice ages and human migration to this continent. African Elephants could uproot and devour many of the water stealing mesquites and restore the biodiverse shortgrass prarie.
Epidexipteryx my codlings. It’s quite obviously a greasel.
May I recommend The Jehol Fossils for further reading on this subject?
Just that the book is–IMNSHO–so interesting.
Check it out on Amazon.
Stephen Wells says
Hmmm. When do you think we’ll know enough about limb and feather genetics, morphology and embryology to start with a pigeon egg and have something which looks like this hatch out? I guess reverting the feathers from flight to downy would be the easiest part, but getting the digits would be trickier. We should start with a hoatzin egg, maybe.
David Marjanovi? says
The latter part is highly unlikely, because the animal is the size of a pigeon, and because its teeth and probably its fingers (as well as the fingers of something that may be a close relative or the same species) suggest it lived more like an aye-aye, picking insect larvae out of holes and eating them, though it didn’t gnaw wood.
It’s not, but it’s probably very close (for some values of “bird”).
That’s not why. What’s going on is that the picture implies rotated (pronated) forearms, and that’s impossible to this day in any dinosaur except ornithischians and sauropods.
:-) :-) :-)
Possible, but unlikely. See my first comment to the Tet Zoo post.
Note the break in the slab that runs through the tail. Probably a part of the tail is missing here, and the tail was as long as in Scansoriopteryx/Epidendrosaurus.
Way too small. Total length (assuming nothing is missing in the tail) around 20 cm.
Those asking for a similar size mammal predator, it could be close to a stoat… That is also small (pidgin size), fast and has sharp claws and teeth.
There are a few varieties of stoat which come in different sizes, but i think the smaller ones would be near this ‘Peacock Raptor’ in size.
It’s lovely! I’ll have to ask a friend of mine to show the picture to her budgies, who will smirk and preen at how impressive their ancestors were. It’s too small to be ‘Budgie Kong’, though, which is what we call the Gigantoraptor! (And does anyone else think that Deinonychus is proof of the evolutionary accuracy of Sesame Street?! Big Bird – fossilised!)
I’m not a scientist but this dinosaur hypothesis controversy and the arguments for and against the thecodont hypthesis etc has got me thinking that its possible ‘birds’ evolved twice.
What I mean by this is that we had the archaeopteryx and epidexipteryx sized proto-birds being incredibly close relatives to modern birds excluding ratites over the mesozoic era.
But then we have the branching of therapods from both thecodonts and protobirds (or one or the other) and two things happening
Some therapods lost their feathers (Not requiring insulation due to the warm weather and their increasing mass)
Others branched into larger feathered therapods and eventually into the ratites (which I feel explains why many feathered dinosaurs of the mesozoic appeared to get larger the more similar to birds they were such as caudipteryx, oviraptor etc etc)
I find that to be my explanation for why the wing vestiges of ratites appear to be so much more saurian to magpies and sparrows etc.
Like I said I’m not a scientist nor do I have access to ALL the facts.
If there is a point I missed (Such as a distribution of synapomorphies consistant with birds having a common ancestor at a time which rules out seperate lineages) I’ll stand corrected.
But given the information I have its the best explanation I myself am playing with at the time.