30 October 2014

Famous Displays in History

Epidexipteryx is well known in the public domain and in the scientific community. As such it is a taxon that we can comfortably call charismatic fauna. This sort of label is typically heard when discussing larger dinosaurs, birds, mammals, etc and is usually called megafauna, because of the size. Epidexipteryx, however, bucks the trend in terms of not being a large animal and instead became well known for a number of other reasons including its relatively new discovery, good press coverage, and use in the BBC's Planet Dinosaur program.

29 October 2014

Hu's Feather

Artist not credited, though it appears to bear a resemblance to the work of Jaime Headden
 The specific name for the week is Epidexipteryx hui, named in honor of Hu Yaoming, a Chinese paleontologist known for his work with mammals. When the dinosaur was described in 2008 the publication of the paper occurred shortly after the death of the 42 year old scientist. Hu Yaoming had very little to do with the dinosaur aside from it honoring him, however, his career was fairly well known and the dinosaur has gone on to become fairly famous. The skull of Epidexipteryx has not been discussed as yet, so beyond talking about the honorific name of the species we really ought to address the strangeness of that cranium. The skull has been noted to resemble those of oviraptorosaurs and therizinosaurs, to a lesser extent. The resemblance is not entirely evident or obvious, but to a point the downward curving of the mandible and premaxilla are definitely somewhat reminiscent of Citipati and Oviraptor. Somewhat uniquely, the mandible and maxilla possess forward angled teeth along the predentary/premaxilla and front of the dentary/maxilla, much like the African dinosaur Masiakasaurus. The remainder of the jaws are lacking in teeth entirely. Masiakasaurus' teeth are hypothesized to have adapted to grasping small fast prey. The similar teeth of Epidexipteryx could potentially have been used for a similar purpose and, given that the dinosaur probably could not fly (it lacked flight feathers on its wings), it probably chased down a myriad of small lizards and mammals as prey items on foot.

28 October 2014

Reading About Feathers

The paper describing Epidexipteryx was published in 2008 in Nature by Zhang et al. Rather than addressing the dinosaur as a paravian theropod the authors set out to describe what they called a new "bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran". To sum it up, Nature released a short news release that is available to the public. The article is a good read, but it is more regulated in its access. Reading the press release is a good substitute, so be sure to at least check this out!

26 October 2014

The Kids Displayed Feather

There is a rather goofy looking Epidexipteryx on a nicely organized fact page that is very kid friendly. The reason it appears somewhat odd looking is that the jaws of the dinosaur have been illustrated closed and with a rather enormous overbite. That page happens to be part of the Dinosaur Jungle site, which has been pretty reliable in the past for the quality of its information. The BBC, because of their use of Epidexipteryx in Planet Dinosaur, maintains a page on their site that details some information on the dinosaur and a short video as well.

25 October 2014

Jurassic Peafowl

The display feathers as reconstructed by paleontologists that were working on the initial description were a bit more sparse than those shown later in subsequent illustrations. However, that does not mean that these interpretations are conservative estimates or that they are inaccurate representations of the animal. The number of feathers discovered with the dinosaur is not as important as the fact that the display feathers are known to exist, though. The fact that those feathers are as large as they are also points at the exact use for which they are most often illustrated in as well. Arguments could be made for a more magpie-like situation in which the tail feathers are held directly behind the body, but the more peafowl-like version of holding the tail feathers erect is much more showy and interesting in terms of a display structure. The coloration of the feathers is, of course, all speculation at the moment. Definitive knowledge of the coloration of feathering may be in the near future though (you never know). As for the portrayed posture, it appears rather bird-like, when display postures of extant aves are considered (e.g. Northern Mockingbird). The extension of the arms of this reconstruction is more horizontal and extended less dorsal, but the idea remains the same. Were the forelimbs/wings covered in longer feathers that are not preserved with the remainder of the fossil? There exists the potential for such a thing, but as of now it has not been realized. The rostral skull of the paravian dinosaur is also quite interesting. The skull appears to have some elongation to it, though obviously not entirely like that of a beak or the typical shape of theropod dinosaurs.

24 October 2014

Epidexipteryx The Almost Bird

©Nobu Tamura
Toting a name that means "Display feather", Epidexipteryx is often portrayed as almost peacock-like.The feathers that are portrayed as such often have wonderful colors and almost distract from the small paravian body of the dinosaur. Paravian dinosaurs are small theropods that are closely related to birds, but also still related to dinosaurs, with Oviraptorids being considered one of the closest dinosaurs related to their clade. Epidexipteryx comes from the Jurassic beds of China, meaning it was temporally near Archaeopteryx and many other bird-like and paravian dinosaurs. One rather interesting anatomical feature of this dinosaur is the strange shape of its lower jaw, which we will look at in further detail this week. Also, we will look at its unique fingers and those rather ostentatious tail feathers as well.