Ticks are currently among the most prevalent blood-feeding ectoparasites, but their feeding habits and hosts in deep time have long remained speculative. Here, we report direct and indirect evidence in 99 million-year-old Cretaceous amber showing that hard ticks and ticks of the extinct new family Deinocrotonidae fed on blood from feathered dinosaurs, non-avialan or avialan excluding crown-group birds. A †Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick is entangled in a pennaceous feather. Two deinocrotonids described as †Deinocroton draculi gen. et sp. nov. have specialised setae from dermestid beetle larvae (hastisetae) attached to their bodies, likely indicating cohabitation in a feathered dinosaur nest. A third conspecific specimen is blood-engorged, its anatomical features suggesting that deinocrotonids fed rapidly to engorgement and had multiple gonotrophic cycles. These findings provide insight into early tick evolution and ecology, and shed light on poorly known arthropod-vertebrate interactions and potential disease transmission during the Mesozoic.
Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil taxon with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany that occupies a crucial position for understanding the early evolution of avian flight. After over 150 years of study, its mosaic anatomy unifying characters of both non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds has remained challenging to interpret in a locomotory context. Here, we compare new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens obtained through phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to a representative sample of archosaurs employing a diverse array of locomotory strategies. Our analyses reveal that the architecture of Archaeopteryx’s wing bones consistently exhibits a combination of cross-sectional geometric properties uniquely shared with volant birds, particularly those occasionally utilising short-distance flapping. We therefore interpret that Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds. This unexpected outcome implies that avian powered flight must have originated before the latest Jurassic.
The Jurassic Yanliao theropods have offered rare glimpses of the early paravian evolution and particularly of bird origins, but, with the exception of the bizarre scansoriopterygids, they have shown similar skeletal and integumentary morphologies. Here we report a distinctive new Yanliao theropod species bearing prominent lacrimal crests, bony ornaments previously known from more basal theropods. It shows longer arm and leg feathers than Anchiornis and tail feathers with asymmetrical vanes forming a tail surface area even larger than that in Archaeopteryx. Nanostructures, interpreted as melanosomes, are morphologically similar to organized, platelet-shaped organelles that produce bright iridescent colours in extant birds. The new species indicates the presence of bony ornaments, feather colour and flight-related features consistent with proposed rapid character evolution and significant diversity in signalling and locomotor strategies near bird origins.
The famous ‘feathered dinosaurs’ from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning Province, northeastern China, include several dromaeosaurids, which are among the closest relatives of birds. Most of these are small-bodied taxa with long arms and broad wings comprised of vaned feathers, but a single specimen (the holotype of Tianyuraptor) belongs to a much larger individual with reduced forelimbs, which unfortunately lacks any preserved integument. We describe a new specimen of large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid, which we designate as a new genus and species, Zhenyuanlong suni. The integument is well preserved and provides the first evidence of feather morphologies and distribution in a short-armed (and probably non-volant) dromaeosaurid, indicating that these rare and aberrant taxa had large wings consisting of pennaceous feathers on the arms and long pennaceous feathers on the tail very similar to their smaller and longer-armed relatives, but potentially lacked vaned feathers on the legs. Zhenyuanlong adds yet more diversity to the Liaoning dromaeosaurid fauna, helps further reveal a distinct short-armed bauplan among dromaeosaurids, and illuminates previously-unrecognized homoplasy that complicates dromaeosaurid phylogeny and suggests that the Liaoning taxa may not have formed their own clade.
In the two decades since the discovery of feathered dinosaurs [1-3], the range of plumage known from non-avialan theropods has expanded significantly, confirming several features predicted by developmentally informed models of feather evolution [4-10]. However, three-dimensional feather morphology and evolutionary patterns remain difficult to interpret, due to compression in sedimentary rocks [9, 11]. Recent discoveries in Cretaceous amber from Canada, France, Japan, Lebanon, Myanmar, and the United States [12-18] reveal much finer levels of structural detail, but taxonomic placement is uncertain because plumage is rarely associated with identifiable skeletal material . Here we describe the feathered tail of a non-avialan theropod preserved in mid-Cretaceous (∼99 Ma) amber from Kachin State, Myanmar , with plumage structure that directly informs the evolutionary developmental pathway of feathers. This specimen provides an opportunity to document pristine feathers in direct association with a putative juvenile coelurosaur, preserving fine morphological details, including the spatial arrangement of follicles and feathers on the body, and micrometer-scale features of the plumage. Many feathers exhibit a short, slender rachis with alternating barbs and a uniform series of contiguous barbules, supporting the developmental hypothesis that barbs already possessed barbules when they fused to form the rachis . Beneath the feathers, carbonized soft tissues offer a glimpse of preservational potential and history for the inclusion; abundant Fe(2+) suggests that vestiges of primary hemoglobin and ferritin remain trapped within the tail. The new finding highlights the unique preservation potential of amber for understanding the morphology and evolution of coelurosaurian integumentary structures.
The ‘Solnhofen Limestone’ beds of the Southern Franconian Alb, Bavaria, southern Germany, have for centuries yielded important pterosaur specimens, most notably of the genera Pterodactylus and Rhamphorhynchus. Here we describe a new genus of non-pterodactyloid pterosaur based on an extremely well preserved fossil of a young juvenile: Bellubrunnus rothgaengeri (gen. et sp. nov.).
The iconic primeval bird Archaeopteryx was so far mainly known from the Altmühltal Formation (early Tithonian) of Bavaria, southern Germany, with one specimen having been found in the overlying Mörnsheim Formation. A new specimen (the 12th skeletal specimen) from the earliest Tithonian Painten Formation of Schamhaupten (Bavaria) represents the so far oldest representative of the genus. The new specimen shows several interesting anatomical details, including the presence of a postorbital in contact with the jugal, the presence of a separate prefrontal and coronoid, and opisthocoelous mid-cervical vertebrae. Based on observations on the new specimen, we discuss several problematic issues concerning Archaeopteryx, including the monophyly and diagnosis of the genus, the absence/presence of the sternum, the position of the gastralia, and variation in morphometrics and dental morphology in that genus. Based on a new diagnosis for the genus Archaeopteryx, the Berlin, Eichstätt, Solnhofen, Munich, Daiting, Thermopolis, 11th, and 12th specimens can be referred to this genus with high certainty. The Maxberg specimen is very probably also an Archaeopteryx, based on overall similarity, although none of the diagnostic characters can be evaluated with certainty. The ninth specimen (‘chicken wing’) might be Archaeopteryx, but cannot be referred to the genus with any certainty. In comparison with other paravians, the presence of distally thickened anterior pectoral ribs indicates that a rather large cartilagenous sternum was present in this taxon. In contrast to non-opisthopubic theropods, opisthopubic taxa, such as Archaeopteryx and many other paravians, have the posterior end of the gastral basket preserved at about half-length of the pubis, which might reflect the post-mortem collapse of enlarged abdominal air sacs in these taxa. Specimens that can be referred to Archaeopteryx show a high amount of variation, both in the morphometrics of the limb bones as well as in the dentition. In respect to the latter aspect, variation is found in tooth number, spacing, orientation, and morphology, with no two specimens showing the exact same pattern. The significance of this variation is unclear, and possible explanations reach from high intraspecific (and possibly ontogenetic and/or sexual dimorphic) variation to the possibility that the known specimens represent a ‘species flock’ of Archaeopteryx, possibly due to island speciation after the initial dispersal of the genus into the Solnhofen Archipelago.
Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil that has long been pivotal for our understanding of the origin of birds. Remains of this important taxon have only been found in the Late Jurassic lithographic limestones of Bavaria, Germany. Twelve skeletal specimens are reported so far. Archaeopteryx was long the only pre-Cretaceous paravian theropod known, but recent discoveries from the Tiaojishan Formation, China, yielded a remarkable diversity of this clade, including the possibly oldest and most basal known clade of avialan, here named Anchiornithidae. However, Archaeopteryx remains the only Jurassic paravian theropod based on diagnostic material reported outside China.
Theropod dinosaurs were the dominant predators in most Mesozoic era terrestrial ecosystems. Early theropod evolution is currently interpreted as the diversification of various carnivorous and cursorial taxa, whereas the acquisition of herbivorism, together with the secondary loss of cursorial adaptations, occurred much later among advanced coelurosaurian theropods. A new, bizarre herbivorous basal tetanuran from the Upper Jurassic of Chile challenges this conception. The new dinosaur was discovered at Aysén, a fossil locality in the Upper Jurassic Toqui Formation of southern Chile (General Carrera Lake). The site yielded abundant and exquisitely preserved three-dimensional skeletons of small archosaurs. Several articulated individuals of Chilesaurus at different ontogenetic stages have been collected, as well as less abundant basal crocodyliforms, and fragmentary remains of sauropod dinosaurs (diplodocids and titanosaurians).
Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous deposits from northeastern China have yielded varied theropod dinosaurs bearing feathers. Filamentous integumentary structures have also been described in ornithischian dinosaurs, but whether these filaments can be regarded as part of the evolutionary lineage toward feathers remains controversial. Here we describe a new basal neornithischian dinosaur from the Jurassic of Siberia with small scales around the distal hindlimb, larger imbricated scales around the tail, monofilaments around the head and the thorax, and more complex featherlike structures around the humerus, the femur, and the tibia. The discovery of these branched integumentary structures outside theropods suggests that featherlike structures coexisted with scales and were potentially widespread among the entire dinosaur clade; feathers may thus have been present in the earliest dinosaurs.