Feathered Dinosaur Tail Found in Amber

Eeveryone knows that creationists hate even the idea of transitional fossils. Despite abundant evidence — we always link to Wikipedia’s List of transitional fossils — they continue to deny the existence of transitionals.

Their denial is because transitionals would be evidence of what they call “macro-evolution,” which they say is impossible. They reluctantly acknowledge what they call “micro-evolution,” but those are trivial variations within a species. They insist that without supernatural aid and the addition of a magical substance they call “information,” no species can evolve into another.

A good example is feathered dinosaurs, which indicate the evolutionary relationship of birds and dinos. Here’s an old post in which we discussed the Discoveroids’ denial of a feathered dinosaur: Discovery Institute: Transitional Fossils? No Way! The other creationist websites have similar articles.

To the great discomfort of creationists everywhere, PhysOrg has this new article: Amber specimen offers rare glimpse of feathered dinosaur tail. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Researchers have discovered a dinosaur tail complete with its feathers trapped in a piece of amber. The finding reported in Current Biology on December 8 helps to fill in details of the dinosaurs’ feather structure and evolution, which can’t be determined from fossil evidence.

This is the published paper: A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber. You can read it online without a subscription. We’ll continue with PhysOrg:

While the feathers aren’t the first to be found in amber, earlier specimens have been difficult to definitively link to their source animal, the researchers say.

“The new material preserves a tail consisting of eight vertebrae from a juvenile; these are surrounded by feathers that are preserved in 3D and with microscopic detail,” says Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada. “We can be sure of the source because the vertebrae are not fused into a rod or pygostyle as in modern birds and their closest relatives. Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side.” In other words, the feathers definitely are those of a dinosaur not a prehistoric bird.

That’s no problem for creationists. They’ll just say he’s lying. Hey — get this:

The study’s first author Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences (Beijing) discovered the remarkable specimen at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar in 2015. The amber piece was originally seen as some kind of plant inclusion and destined to become a curiosity or piece of jewelry, but Xing recognized its potential scientific importance and suggested that the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology buy the specimen.

Serendipity sometimes plays a role — without a designer.

There are some neat details in the article; you’ll probably want to read it for yourself. We’ll quit here, beaming with anticipation at the reaction of the creationists.

Addendum: As expected, the Discoveroids quickly posted about this finding. They say It’s a bird.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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50 responses to “Feathered Dinosaur Tail Found in Amber

  1. Creationists have gone out on a fundamentalist limb, which gets sawed off every time scientists make a conflicting discovery.

    You’d think they would learn that it is a risky business to contradict or deny science, or to claim that certain of their beliefs are immutable and not subject to change by future discoveries.

    You’d think they would learn, but over a couple of centuries we have seen that they don’t. I guess Heinlein was right:

    ‘Belief gets in the way of learning’ — Robert A. Heinlein

  2. There are plenty of only reports on this written for different audiences, from standard news sources; “National Geographic”, which funded it; “Science” magazine. This will demand attention.
    I would just observe that this fossil does not represent a transitional form. The animal probably thrived on its own, not showing signs that it only existed as an ancestor to any bird. The feathers are fully formed and functional, not half a feather.

  3. Every single fossil is a transitional form.

  4. “They reluctantly acknowledge what they call “micro-evolution,”
    No, you got that wrong. They embrace micro-evolution. They have to – how else can they explain the enormous diversity after the “Flood”.

  5. @HansW got it right, and the creationists’ micro-evolution is not constrained by species boundaries, but is within a “kind” (which they claim has scriptural warrant). A kind something like a taxonomic family (among vertebrates).

  6. Charles Deetz ;)

    Hambone in 3-2-1: feathers = bird, the Bible says so. End of discussion, you heathens.

  7. Christine Janis

    “I would just observe that this fossil does not represent a transitional form”

    It’s not. It’s not on the direct lineage to birds, and it’s found a long while after the first bird. However, it *is* evidence that dinosaurs had bird-like feathers, something continually denied by creationists. There are many other features of dinosaurs that show their relationship to modern birds, feathers are just the icing on the cake.

  8. Christine Janis

    “A kind something like a taxonomic family (among vertebrates).”

    Not really, only among mammals. And that can vary. That’s usually only used for familiar families where there is not very much phenotype variation (at least today). For example, Canidae and Felidae. (But note that when creationists talk about the “dog kind” they only ever show the genus Canis.)

    But a “kind” can be below the family level: among the Hominidae a genus is a kind, as Homo is different kind from Pan or Gorilla.

    For many other mammals a “kind” is an entire Order, which contains multiple families. e.g., whales, rodents, rabbits, possums (Not to mention the family Equidae, which contains the the Eocene hyracotheres — or ark equids, as Ken Ham likes to call them).

    It gets worse outside of Mammalia, where entire classes can be kinds: Sharks, bony fishes, even reptiles.

    Then, going above the subphylum Vertebrata, entire phyla can be kinds: molluscs, worms, sponges

    Getting outside of animals, entire kingdoms can be kinds. e.g., fungi, and outside of eukaryotes entire domains can be kinds, e.g. “bacteria” (actually two domains).

    So, the creationist notion of “kind” has no basis whatsoever in morpohological disparity or genetic distance. It’s based entirely upon perceived similarity, or dissimilarity, to humans.

  9. Charles Deetz correctly predicts

    Hambone in 3-2-1: feathers = bird, the Bible says so. End of discussion, you heathens.

    Yep. If Creationists can hand-wave away the superabundance of empirical data that already exists, there is no chance that any further evidence will have any impact on their clinging to such fiercely-held dogmatic beliefs.

    …–Unless, of course, as part of some undisputably authentic find of a trove of Dead Sea Scrolls, the very final page of the Bible (which had been lost for millennia) is at last found, and reads as follows:

    The stories, names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this mythology are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living, deceased, or purportedly immortal) is intended or should be inferred.

    No animals (and that includes people) were harmed by talking snakes, global floods, fire and brimstone, or any other CGI effect in the making of this mythology.

    © 20th Century BC Fox and Retro-Godwin-Scare

  10. Christine Janis

    After caffeine —– I realise that I should qualify what I meant when I said that this dinosaur wasn’t a “transitional form”. That is, it’s directly not on the lineage of known transitional forms between theropod dinosaurs and birds, of which there are at least a dozen.

    However, in terms of morphology in the broad sense, all theropod dinosaurs are “transitional forms” between a reptile like any living today and birds. And confirmation of feathers in a not-overly-closely related theropod only adds strength to this.

  11. @Christine Janis
    Yes, you got everything right.

  12. A tail with eight vertebrae and feathers? So, where are the tails with seven vertebrae and feathers? Checkmate.

  13. @Mark Germano — “What good is half a vertebra?”

  14. Christine Janis

    “What good is half a vertebra?”

    Lamprys manage quite well with them

  15. Very cool, very illuminating discovery that will be discounted by the Creationist gang, well, you know why, because they feel it rather than think it.

  16. “Every single fossil is a transitional form.”

    Close, but not quite. It would be more accurate to state that fossils can be grouped into two broad categories: transitional and terminal species. Some species die out so they are terminal rather than transitional. Since fossilization is relatively rare, the probability that a fossil is terminal is relatively small but still non-zero.

  17. What proportion of species are terminal? A high proportion of individuals die without reproducing.
    But if we consider a fossil, not as a representative of a species, but of some higher clade, what then?
    Can’t a fossil be both a transitional form (clade) and a terminal species?

  18. Heathrow Airport has four terminals but no terminal 1. Explain that evolutionists!

  19. Christine Janis

    Terminal 1 is there, but it’s a pseudoterminal (no longer functional)

  20. There is, believe it or not, a Wikipedia article on Terminal 1 Heathrow!

  21. Christine Janis

    Yeah, but Were You There???

  22. Terminal 1 is there, but it’s a pseudoterminal (no longer functional)

    I guess one could call that junk TWA.

  23. ChristineJ draws the wrong conclusion: ” It’s based entirely upon perceived similarity, or dissimilarity, to humans.”
    Nope – it’s based entirely on the needs at any given moment. Microevolution is the ultimate creationist ad hoc argument.

  24. mnbo, it’s a bit of column A, a bit of column B, really. They apply it as needed, wherever needed, to explain everything and anything that disagrees with their necessarily narrow view of how life functions as an ad hoc argument, as you say.

    It is, however, typically deployed very unimaginatively. The farther they get from humans, the more they assume (wrongly) that there’s less variation within a kind. I’ve heard people sincerely argue that there was a single insect “kind” because, really, all it is, is six legs on a thorax. How complicated can THAT get.

  25. If one pays attention to the Bible when it uses the word kind (min), it never uses that word in reference to humans.

  26. Christine Janis

    Of course not, because it’s humans who are making (or obeying) the definitions. Noah decides (or is told) what “kinds” of animals to take on the Ark —-he’s not going to consider his family a “kind”, because he includes himself with the family.

    But, actually, Noah’s family was the ultimate “kind”, as they were the only humans who God didn’t destroy. Apparently. As they say.

  27. The word “kind” is also used in the narrative of creation week, where we hear that this and that is created “according to its kind”, whatever that means. The Bible does not say that God created a kind of such-and-such. And when it comes to creating humans, it could have said that humans are created according to their kind, but it doesn’t. It says that humans are created in the image of God, whatever that means.

  28. michaelfugate

    It may say that humans are created in the image of God, but what it means is that gods are created in the image of humans.

  29. Ludwig Feuerbach, but I can’t find the citation.
    And I’ve forgotten the ancient Greek who said that horses have gods which are horses.

  30. From what I’ve seen on Faceb**k threads most of the creation crowd are whining about the “modern” ant (jetpacks?) also present in the sample. They claim the sample is modern because ants clearly still exist, despite the fact that the ant in the sample looks very different from the ants they are comparing it to. A typical lack of attention to detail. It’s not a surprising stance to see considering they don’t accept that trilobites’ descendents have retained many phenotypical features of the ancestors.

  31. @michaelfugate

    ‘Men rarely if ever dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.’

    Robert A. Heinlein

  32. As expected, the Discoveroids quickly posted about this finding. They say It’s a bird.

  33. No! It’s a plane!…

  34. It’s Supersham!

    Yes, it’s Supersham! Strange (very strange) visitor from another planet who came to earth with no powers or abilities whatsoever, far less than those of mortal men. Supersham! Who can change the course of any fact, bend quotes in his bare hands. And who, disguised as Clark Kentleklanker, obnoxious sociopath and wannabe reporter for an obscure provincial creationist website, fights a never ending battle against truth, justice and the American way. And now another exciting episode in the adventures of Supersham!

  35. I knew if I looked hard enough, actually not all that hard, I would find the quote mine. Lo, and behold, there it was!

    Lying Disco Tute writes: [T]here …

    Ah, wherein is the original “there?” What might have preceded the “there” and what followed it. Well, all this stuff: (mined quote in bold)

    There are several lines of evidence pertaining to the systematic position of the specimen. First, based on the preserved length of the tail and available measurements of the preserved caudal vertebrae, we estimate that a complete caudal series is likely to comprise more than 25 caudal vertebrae, which indicates the specimen more likely to be a non-avialan theropod as there is only one known avian species (i.e., Jeholornis) with more than 25 caudal vertebrae. Second, there is a distinctive ventral groove on the caudal centra of the specimen, which is widely distributed among non-avialan theropods but which has yet to be reported in avialans (though the possibility of its presence in the two known long-tailed birds Archaeopteryx and Jeholornis cannot be excluded). Third, all preserved tail feathers lack closed vanes, a defining character of flight feathers within the Pennaraptora. This suggests that the new specimen is probably more stemward than known pennaraptorans, a systematic inference consistent with osteological criteria. Furthermore, the presence of open vanes (indicated by the barb arrangements on either side of the rachis and the presence of barbules) suggests that the specimen is more crownward than compsognathids and tyrannosauroids (and maybe even ornithomimosaurs, which have been suggested to have some kind of pennaceous feathers). Taken together, the available osteological and integumentary features suggest that the specimen is probably a maniraptoran more crownward than compsognathids and tyrannosauroids (maybe even ornithomimosaurs) and perhaps more stemward than oviraptorosaurs.
    However, the juvenile nature of the specimen might weaken this systematic hypothesis. The extremely small size of the specimen suggests that it is a juvenile. The longest measurable caudal is about 4 mm and we believe it is from the posterior part of the caudal series (because the succeeding caudals start to decrease the size). All known adult theropods including the two known long-tailed birds Archaeopteryx and Jeholornis have much longer posterior caudal vertebrae (e.g., 17 mm in J. palmapenis [S11]). If the specimen is a juvenile maniraptoran, it is possible that it may exhibit less complex feathers as a result of its ontogenetic stage. However, there are three lines of evidence that suggest the plumage is representative of the adult morphology regardless of the juvenile nature of the specimen. First, Similicaudipteryx fossils show that even juveniles of non-avialan theropods have pennaceous feathers (the late juvenile individual has typical flight feathers with closed vanes). Second, in extant birds the flight feathers (including tail feathers) have closed vanes with pennaceous barbules once they have replaced the
    plumulaceous neoptile feathers. Third, there is no evidence from modern feathers to support the idea that the largely symmetrical and somewhat pennaceous barbules seen in DIP-V-15103 might transform into a different type of pennaceous barbules (i.e., asymmetrical pennaceous barbules capable of forming a flight feather with closed vanes) during a later moult.

    Note the tiny, out-of-context, piece the Tooters pulled out. Golf clap, Tooters.

  36. Bah! What do soi-disant ‘experts’ know? As the DI so persuasively point out, they’re making a lot of ‘inferences”–which are as useless in the face of Creationists’ All-Conquering Intuition as Paper is to Scissors, or Scissors are to Rock…

  37. As we all know, ID is not YEC.
    Does DI ever point out the inferences which the YECs make?
    I’m not expecting that there be any equivalence in treatment, but one might think that on occasion there would be an opportunity to point out their differences.
    Come to think of it, even some of the YEC sites mention arguments which they don’t think that YECs should make.

  38. What does intelligent design say about the ancestry of modern birds? I’m asking because I don’t know.

  39. Why can’t a YEC say that birds and dinosaurs are of the same kind?

  40. michaelfugate

    Why can’t a YEC say humans and apes are the same kind?

  41. The King James Bible does use the word “ape”, but in 1600 the word referred to the only nonhuman primates which were known to the English-speaking word, namely monkeys. I don’t believe that chimps and gorillas were known in the Ancient Near East, either.

  42. Why can’t an intelligent design proponent say that birds are dinosaurs? Maybe they do, but the article SC linked to makes it seem that they don’t.

  43. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Michael Behe accepts the dinosaur-bird evolution.

  44. The closest the Tooters have ever come to having a paleontologist on staff was our dearly departed Attack Gerbil, Luskin. The Gerb “studied” earth science and bones are found in the earth by scientists. Ergo.

    The Tooters’ “It’s A Bird” reminds me of Luskin’s “analysis” of Shubin’s Tiktaalik paper concluding “It’s A Fish.” It always amused me that the Tooters would attempt to change the conclusions of the researchers by using the researchers’ very own paper, mainly by ignoring all the words. Pesky things, words.

  45. When I was first introduced to YEC I was surprised to see that they accepted that fossils were the remains of once-living things. That was just firmly established only in the 18th-19th century. It was difficult for theists to accept the idea that any of God’s creatures should go extinct, and it was difficult to accommodate such a variety in the Bible.
    YEC is really a modern invention.

  46. Christine Janis

    “It always amused me that the Tooters would attempt to change the conclusions of the researchers by using the researchers’ very own paper,”

    But Shubin also said it was a fish! But that little nugget by Casey got us to all realise that he didn’t know the meaning of the word “eponymous”.

    But here’s what I really don’t understand about creationists’ thinking. They say that there are no transitional fossils, no evidence for evolution. Then the next thing, they’re jumping up and down claiming that the Cambrian explosion is evidence for ID. So how did we get to today’s living fauna, which is nothing like the half a billion years old Cambrian fauna, without some intervening evolution?

  47. “YEC is really a modern invention.”
    One could call it post-truth science. When people try to revive ideas from the past they can’t help but include facts that weren’t known then. It is like those against marriage equality – marriage pre-Obergefell wasn’t like marriage in 1900 or 1800 or 1700 or 1000 or 100, of that matter. There is nothing that is “traditional” marriage.

  48. But Shubin also said it was a fish!

    YOU’RE a fish! Ha and double Ha!

    Wait, that would make me a fish, too. Rats.

  49. My comment just now takes in a new AiG piece dated 12 December.