Eosinopteryx – part 1 – Feathers, but no flapping

Eosinopteryx brevipenna (Godefroit et al. 2013, Middle-Late Jurassic, Tiaojishan Formation) is represented by a new complete skeleton. It was a feathered theropod dinosaur about 30 cm long. The forelimb feathers were quite long (Fig. 1), but the tail feathers were not.

Paravian? or Preavian?
We’ve been looking for a feathered theropod without elongated coracoids to precede Archaeopteryx. We also need this taxon to be not pre-oviraptorid or pre-alvarezsaurid. The authors argue, with a very extensive phylogenetic analysis, that this is a troodontid resembling Anchiornis, with less extensive feathers on the hind limbs and tail. Anchiornis greatly resembled Archaeopteryx and is, therefore, closely related. Of that, there is no doubt.

Why There is Doubt
I have not created a competing analysis. Checking out Greg Paul’s figure of Anchiornis (Paul 2010), I note his Anchiornis has the short torso and elongated coracoid also seen in Archaeopteryx, troodontids and deinonychosaurs.

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. Eosinopteryx reconstructed in lateral view. Soft tissue impressions preserved on the fossil are represented here in gray. Note the small size of the coracoid (yellow) and its curved lower rim, which indicates this specimen was a pre-flapping dinosaur. Pedal digit 2 was not modified as a "killing" claw. Elements figured with DGS.

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. Eosinopteryx reconstructed in lateral view. Soft tissue impressions preserved on the fossil are represented here in gray. Note the small size of the coracoid (yellow) and its curved lower rim, which indicates this specimen was a pre-flapping dinosaur. Pedal digit 2 was not modified as a “killing” claw. Elements figured with DGS.

What sets Eosinopteryx apart from these?
A short coracoid with a broad curved ventral rim - Therefore Eosinopteryx did not flap and was not descended from flappers. We haven’t seen a terrestrial descendant of Archaeopteryx yet without elongated coracoids. For more on this, compare Huaxiagnathus (with its short coracoid) to Velociraptor, (with its long, tall coracoid). Otherwise these two greatly resemble one another, with the former lacking sternal plates, a retroverted pubis and caudal rods. These traits are also lacking in Eosinopteryx.

A relatively smaller skull – Much smaller than in Anchiornis.

A relatively longer torso – Much longer than in Anchiornis.

A relatively shorter pubis – Much shorter than in Anchiornis.

All these traits are primitive for theropods.

Unfortunately, 
Huaxiagnathus
 was not included in the analysis of Godefroit et al. (2013). Neither were oviraptorids or alvarezsaurids. Eosinopteryx
needs to be compared to these missing basal taxa along with the other taxa they previously tested. Once that’s done, let’s see if the topology of the tree doesn’t shift Eosinopteryx down below (more primitive than) Archaeopteryx. 

Addendum: The analysis of Godefroit et al. (2013) was based on and provided only a segment of an earlier analysis that DID include these more primitive taxa. Thus my doubt is reduced somewhat as all pertinent taxa were included.  Even so, I wonder why these two “sisters” don’t look more alike.

If anyone has details on why Godefroit et al. 2013 said the “bone structure would have limited its ability to flap its wings,” I’d like to see it.

Interesting that this birdy topic just came up a few days ago with Mahakala. Reminds me to be careful what I wish for.

As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.

Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.

References
Godefroit P, Demuynck H, Dyke G, Hu D, Escuillié FO and Claeys P. 2013. Reduced plumage and flight ability of a new Jurassic paravian theropod from China. Nature Communications 4: 1394. doi:10.1038/ncomms2389
Paul GS 2010. The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs. Princeton University Press 320 pp.

wiki/Eosinopteryx

3 thoughts on “Eosinopteryx – part 1 – Feathers, but no flapping

  1. The analysis of Godefroit et al. (2013) is based on the Xiaotingia matrix with the inclusion of Eosinopteryx and Jinfengopteryx (and the re-score of Anchiornis). The whole matrix includes many coelurosaurs including Huaxiagnathus, alvaresaurids and oviraptorosaurs. The authors just showed only the paravian part of the cladogram for brevity, since the non-paravian part of the tree was almost identical to the original result. Thus they included the short-coracoid taxa you mentioned.

  2. Pingback: DinoAstur - » Un nuevo dinosaurio emplumado del Jurásico: Eosinopteryx

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