Sinosauropteryx was the first of the “feathered dinosaurs” to wow the world. The true nature of these “feathers” has been debated since the ‘90s. The latest iteration of this discussion involves the tiny structures that impart color to bird feathers.
I would only add to this discussion the thought that the most equivocal evidence presented by Zhang, et al, concerns the only clear dinosaur, Sinosauropteryx. Sinornithosaurus, on the other hand, looks an awful lot like Microraptor – a four-winged bird, damn it.
I’m still not convinced that there is such a thing as a feathered dinosaur.
Sinornithosaurus could in most cases fly perfectly well, and had standard flight feathers as on modern birds. Sinosauropteryx was descended from gliders, and the feathers it carried were fibrous but different from flight-capable feathers, and may never have been in the modern style. Many smaller dinosaurs had fibrous feathers, mutated from whatever its gliding ancestors used. Larger dinosaurs had fewer feathers and more scales.
A new Chinese specimen indicates that “protofeathers” in the Early Cretaceous theropod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx are degraded collagen fibres
Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, Alan Feduccia and Xiaolin Wang
Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2007) 274, 1823-1829
Fossilized melanosomes and the colour of Cretaceous dinosaurs and birds
Zang F, Kearns SL, Orr PJ, Benton MJ, Zhou Z, Johnson D, Xu X, Wang X
Nature (2010) 463:1075-1078
The evolution of the feather: Sinosauropteryx, a colourful tail
J Ornithol (2010)
The next round, I suspect, will deal with trace metals found in feather pigments:
Trace Metals as Biomarkers for Eumelanin Pigment in the Fossil Record
R.A. Wogelius, P.L. Manning, H.E. Barden, N.P. Edwards, S.M. Webb, W.I. Sellers, K.G. Taylor, P.L. Larson, P. Dodson, H. You, L. Da-quing, U Bergmann
Sciencexpress, (30 June 2011)