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Transitional Fossil Species, Part II
Did Some Dinosaurs Evolve Into Birds?

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Is Archaeopteryx a Valid Transitional Fossil?

Archaeopteryx is the name given to an animal about the size of a crow. It is represented by fossil remains that display teeth, three claws on each wing, a flat sternum (breastbone), belly ribs (gastralia), and a long, bony tail. In other words, it had characteristics like those of many small dinosaurs. What made Archaeopteryx an exciting find was the fact that the fossil also exhibited feathers, a lightly-built body with hollow bones, and a wishbone (furcula).[1] As a result, many people who believe in evolution presume this fossil represents a transitional species between reptiles and birds. Along with other evidence (which we will examine later) it led to the theory that the dinosaurs did not become extinct, but rather all turned into birds. The purpose of this page is to clarify the facts about Archaeopteryx and other similar transitional fossil species.

gold ball One article [2] reveals that the fossils of normal birds have been found in older rock strata than Archaeopteryx. Therefore, either Archaeopteryx is not a transitional fossil (since birds already existed at the same time and there was nothing to “transition” into) or rock strata can not be accurately dated. If either of these is correct (and one must be) Archaeopteryx loses its value as a transitional species.

gold ball Archaeopteryx probably could not fly, since it does not have a keeled sternum (breast bone) which all flying birds (and even bats) need to have. Of course, being a transitional species, Archaeopteryx did not have to fly. Yet, if it did not fly, what was the purpose of its feathers?* Since it either flew or it did not—and there are problems with both cases—one or the other removes the support that Archaeopteryx was a valid transitional species.

    *Note: Archaeopteryx feathers are not those of a flightless bird, but rather those of a flying bird, since the shaft (rachis) is not in the center for the feather. Therefore, one more difficulty is added to Archaeopteryx as a transitional species—either “flying” feathers appeared on a bird that could not fly, or the fossils were fakes. (It has been suggested that the fossil of a Compsognathus was modified by adding a tiny layer of material on top of the fossil and imprinting feathers into it.) Although we will not take sides on the “forgery issue,” it is interesting that one site exists where only Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx fossils have been found.[3]

gold ball Feathers develop from a different part of the bird’s embryo than scales do from a reptile’s embryo. Therefore, a person who supports the theory of evolution would have to show how one could have replaced the other in an evolutionary manner—without violating the rules of biology. (Good luck! smile ) That is, the feathers were not an evolutionary modification of scales, but rather had to appear all on their own. This would be like seeing a human baby born with feathers or scales.

gold ball Each of the “reptilian characteristics” in Archaeopteryx is either found to exist in true birds, or is absent in many reptiles. For example, one of the characteristics of Archaeopteryx that make it reptilian are hooks on its wings. Today, both the young Hoatzin bird and the young Ostrich have a hook on their wings similar to that of Archaeopteryx.

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Did The Dinosaurs Turn Into Birds?

Although Archaeopteryx is the only creature that comes close to being a transitional fossil species, there are several other dinosaurs that have some bird characteristics. Those paleontologists who have given up on Archaeopteryx as an evolutionary path have suggested others. These new evolutionary paths use one of two groups, the “feathered” dinosaurs and dinosaurs with “birdlike” skeletons.

The “Feathered” Dinosaurs

Four examples of these dinosaurs are Sinosauropteryx, Protoarchaeopteryx, Caudipteryx and Confuciusornis. The first three are bipedal dinosaurs with short arms—that is, arms incapable of flight.

Four leading American paleontologists examined the Sinosauropteryx fossils, and declared that its “feathers” were actually long parallel arrays of fibers that lack the branching pattern of modern feathers.[4] Sinosauropteryx also had a long tail like a lizard—a tail longer than its body, neck, and head combined. We would not expect this on a dinosaur in the process of “turning into a bird.”

Protoarchaeopteryx feathers are symmetrical, suggesting that it could not fly (as do its short arms). The Caudipteryx resembles the Protoarchaeopteryx, except that its wings are even shorter and it has longer teeth.[5] Not counting the fine teeth, Caudipteryx resembles a miniature emu. Similarly, the feathers of the Caudipteryx resemble those of modern flightless birds (like the emu), which do not smoothly “hook together” like those of birds that fly. They have a “ruffled” and “bushy” appearance, looking more like hair than feathers.

The first three species are less birdlike than Archaeopteryx, yet they come from younger rock layers. (Between 10 and 30 million years, based on the published estimates.) Again, you have a dual problem: you either have to believe that scientists can not date rock layers, or that evolution went backwards for 10-30 million years before going forward again and developing into birds—both arguments that hurt the theory of evolution.

Then there is the Confuciusornis, which had a wishbone, clawed fingers, and a horny, toothless beak.[6] However, they have found fossils of a modern type bird (Liaoningornis) in the same place. Again, it is hard to believe that Confuciusornis could be a transitional species between reptiles and birds if birds already existed at the same time.[7]

The Dinosaurs With “Birdlike” Skeletons

Finally, some scientists suggested that a group of dinosaurs thought to be structurally most like birds (and therefore the most likely species that the birds would have evolved from) evolved into birds. Dinosaurs in this group include Deinonychus, Oviraptor, Utahraptor, Unenlagia, and Velociraptor. Looking at this supposed evolutionary path, please notice that they are all younger than Archaeopteryx by 25-65 million years. If true birds existed before Archaeopteryx, it is obvious that they existed an additional 25-65 million years prior to these dinosaurs. Again, it is tough to be a transitional species if the species being transitioned into exists already. (Either that, or—once again—the geologic dating methods are wrong.) This last group also has two additional problems—they are larger than today’s flying birds, and there is not a feather or wing to be found on any of them.

    Note: Page 90 of the July 1998 issue of National Geographic Magazine contains a colorful drawing of a Unenlagia, one of the dinosaurs with a “birdlike” skeleton. What makes this dinosaur interesting is that its shoulder blades allow the forearm to rotate upward and to tuck against the chest (like a bird’s wing). Based on this information, the artist of this picture has seen fit to add feathers—even though the Unenlagia fossils show no evidence of feathers.
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Although this page is not intended to be a rigorous scientific treatment of the subject, we believe we provided reasonable proof for the following:

  • Archaeopteryx was not a transitional species between reptiles and birds.
  • The “feathered” dinosaurs were not transitional species between reptiles and birds.
  • Those dinosaurs with “birdlike” skeletons were not transitional species between reptiles and birds.

What is interesting to us is that there are many educated, sincere scientists that are willing to believe that either some reptiles evolved into birds or all dinosaurs actually evolved into birds. Unfortunately for those theories, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever supporting these evolutionary paths. On this page and in Transitional Fossil Species, Part I we examined the best examples of transitional fossil species and they all came up deficient. Ask yourself, if there really was a lot of evidence for evolution, how come a series of transitional forms has never been found? We believe the answer is clear—there are no transitional forms, and all the kinds of animals were created just as the Bible reveals. As we stated on our Creation Versus Evolution page, the only real reasons for a person to believe in evolution has to be one of the following:

  • The Bible’s creation account is not “politically acceptable” in the context of their lifestyle.
  • They were told something in school (or read something in a book, or saw something on television) that they never questioned, and have not taken the time to verify whether it was true or not.

If you have been led to believe in the theory of evolution, we sincerely hope that the second situation applies to you. Please take the time to investigate the facts thoroughly. For more information at our site, check out the following links:

Click here to see Transitional Fossil Species, Part I Click here to see Transitional Fossil Species, Part I.

Click here to see Transitional Fossil Species, Part III Click to see Transitional Fossil Species, Part III. What About Ape Men?

Click here to return to the Creation versus Evolution page Click here to return to the Creation versus Evolution page.

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[1] “Archaeopteryx” in Dinosaur and Paleontology Dictionary
[2] Tim Beardsley, “Fossil Bird Shakes Evolutionary Hypotheses,” Nature, Vol. 322, 21 August 1986, p. 677.
[3] Solnhofen Formation
[4] Feathered fallacy
[5] Jennifer Ackerman, “Dinosaurs Take Wing,” National Geographic, Vol. 194, No. 1, July 1988, p. 86, 89.
[6] Philip J. Currie, “Caudipteryx Revealed” (side bar within “Dinosaurs Take Wing” article), National Geographic, Vol. 194, No. 1, July 1988, p. 86-89.
[7] Chinese Discovery Shows Famous Fossil Not Ancestor Of Modern Birds

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