A new stage in the early history of birds is published in the most recent issue of the journal Nature (online 22 October). The discovery of a bizarre feathered dinosaur, named Epidexipteryx hui, from the Middle to Late Jurassic of Inner Mongolia, China that is probably flightless adds complexity to our understanding so far.
The pigeon-sized creature lived a little before Archaeopteryx and is bird-like in many ways. It is characterised by an unexpected combination of characters seen in several different theropod groups, particularly the Oviraptorosauria. Phylogenetic analysis shows it to be the sister taxon to Epidendrosaurus, forming a new clade at the base of Avialae. Epidexipteryx also possesses two pairs of elongate ribbon-like tail feathers, and its limbs lack contour feathers for flight.
Fucheng Zhang of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Systematics of Vertebrates, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues describe how it shows no sign of flight feathers as seen in other bird-like dinosaurs such as Microraptor. This new fossil adds yet more complexity to the early history of evolution from dinosaurs to birds.