Caudipteryx zoui, Caudipteryx zoui,

Fossil range: Early Cretaceous

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Theropoda
Infraorder: Oviraptorosauria
Family: Caudipteridae
Genus: Caudipteryx
Ji et al., 1998

C. zoui Ji et al., 1998 (type)
C. dongi Zhou & Wang, 2000

Caudipteryx (which means "tail feather") is a genus of peacock-sized theropod dinosaurs that lived in the Barremian age of the early Cretaceous Period (about 127 million years ago). They were feathered and remarkably birdlike in their overall appearance.[1] Two species have been described; C. zoui (the type species), in 1998,[1] and C. dongi, in 2000.[2]

Caudipteryx fossils were first discovered in the Yixian Formation of the Sihetun area of Liaoning Province, northeastern China in 1997.


Caudipteryx, like many other maniraptorans, has an interesting mix of reptile- and bird-like anatomical features.[3]

Caudipteryx had a short, boxy skull with a beak-like snout that retained only a few tapered teeth in the front of the upper jaw. It had a stout trunk, long legs and was probably a swift runner. On the hands it had symmetrical, pennaceous, feathers that had vanes and barbs, and that measured between 15–20 centimeters (6–8 inches). These primary feathers were arranged in a wing-like fan along the second finger, just like primary feathers of birds and other maniraptorans. No fossil of Caudipteryx preserves any secondary feathers attached to the forearms, as found in dromaeosaurids, Archaeopteryx and modern birds.[3] Either these arm feathers are not preserved, or they were not present on Caudipteryx in life. An additional fan of feathers existed on its short tail. The shortness and symmetry of the feathers, and the shortness of the arms relative to the body size, indicate that Caudipteryx could not fly. Caudipteryx is thought to have been an omnivore. In at least two specimens of Caudipteryx (NGMC 97 4 A and NGMC 97 9 A), gastroliths are preserved. As in some herbivorous dinosaurs, the avialan Sapeornis, and modern birds, these gastroliths remain in the position where the animals’ gizzards would have been.[1] Caudipteryx has a short, distally stiffened, tail with few vertebrae, like in birds and other oviraptorosaurs. It has a primitive pelvis and shoulder, and primitive skull details in the quadratojugal, squamosal, quadrate, jugal, and mandibular fenestra (in the cheek, jaw, and jaw joint). It has a hand skeleton with a reduced third finger, like that of primitive birds and the oviraptorid Ingenia.[4] Caudipteryx had uncinate processes on the ribs, birdlike teeth, a first toe which may or may not be partially reversed and overall body proportions that are comparable to those of modern flightless birds.[1][5][2][6][3]


The discovery of Caudipteryx led to many intensive studies on and debate over the relationship of birds and dinosaurs. The possible positions in the debate can be summarized as follows: Caudipteryx is either a member of the Oviraptorosauria, or a bird, or both, and birds are either dinosaurs or they are not. (See the rest of this section and Phylogeny, below).

Because Caudipteryx has clear and unambiguously pennaceous feathers, like modern birds, and because several cladistic analyses have consistently recovered it as a nonavian, oviraptorid, dinosaur, it provided, at the time of its description, the clearest and most succinct evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Lawrence Witmer stated: “The presence of unambiguous feathers in an unambiguously nonavian theropod has the rhetorical impact of an atomic bomb, rendering any doubt about the theropod relationships of birds ludicrous.”[3]

However, not all scientists agreed that Caudipteryx was unambiguously non-avian, and some of them continued to doubt that general consensus.A paleontologist like Alan Feduccia, who opposes the theory that birds are theropods, sees Caudipteryx as a flightless bird unrelated to dinosaurs.[7] Jones et al. (2000) found that Caudipteryx was a bird based on a mathematical comparison of the body proportions of flightless birds and non-avian theropods. Dyke and Norell (2005) criticized this result for flaws in their mathematical methods, and produced results of their own which supported the opposite conclusion.[6][8]

Other researchers not normally involved in the debate over bird origins, such as Zhou, acknowledged that the true affinities of Caudipteryx were debatable.[5]

Phylogenetic position

The consensus view, based on several cladistic analyses, is that Caudipteryx is a basal (primitive) member of the Oviraptoridae, and the oviraptorids are nonavian theropod dinosaurs.[9] Incisivosaurus is the only oviraptorid that is more primitive.[10]

Halszka Osmolska et al. (2004) ran a cladistic analysis that came to a different conclusion. They found that the most birdlike features of oviraptorids actually place the whole clade within Aves itself, meaning that Caudipteryx is both an oviraptorid and a bird. In their analysis, birds evolved from more primitive theropods, and one lineage of birds became flightless, re-evolved some primitive features, and gave rise to the oviraptorids. This analyis was persuasive enough to be included in paleontological textbooks like Benton's Vertebrate Paleontology (2005).[11] The view that Caudipteryx was secondarily flightless is also preferred by Gregory S. Paul,[12] Lü et al,[13] and Maryanska et al.[14]

Others, such as Stephen Czerkas and Larry Martin have concluded that Caudipteryx is not a theropod dinosaur at all.[15] They believe that Caudipteryx, like all maniraptorans, is a flightless bird, and that birds evolved from non-dinosaurian archosaurs.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d Ji, Q., Currie, P.J., Norell, M.A., and Ji, S. (1998). "Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China." Nature, 393(6687): 753–761. doi:10.1038/31635PDF fulltext
  2. ^ a b Zhou, Z., and Wang, X. (2000). "A new species of Caudipteryx from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning, northeast China." Vertebrata Palasiatica, 38(2): 113–130. PDF fulltext
  3. ^ a b c d Witmer, L.M. (2005). “The Debate on Avian Ancestry; Phylogeny, Function and Fossils”, Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs : 3–30. ISBN 0-520-20094-2
  4. ^ Osmolska, H., Currie, P.J., and Barsbold, R. (2004). "Oviraptorosauria." In Weishampel, Dodson, Osmolska (eds.) The Dinosauria, second edition. University of California Press, 2004.
  5. ^ a b Zhou, Z., Wang, X., Zhang, F., and Xu, X. (2000). "Important features of Caudipteryx - Evidence from two nearly complete new specimens." Vertebrata Palasiatica, 38(4): 241–254. PDF fulltext
  6. ^ a b Jones, T.D., Farlow, J.O., Ruben, J.A., Henderson, D.M., and Hillenius, W.J. (2000). "Cursoriality in bipedal archosaurs." Nature, 406(6797): 716–718. doi:10.1038/35021041 PDF fulltext Supplementary information
  7. ^ Feduccia, A. (1999). The Origin and Evolution of Birds. 420 pp. Yale University Press, New Haven. ISBN 0300078617.
  8. ^ Dyke, G.J., and Norell, M.A. (2005). "Caudipteryx as a non-avialan theropod rather than a flightless bird." Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 50(1): 101–116. PDF fulltext
  9. ^ Dyke, Gareth J., Norell, Mark A. (2005). "Caudipteryx as a non-avialan theropod rather than a flightless bird". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 50(1):101–116.
  10. ^ Turner, Alan H.; Pol, Diego; Clarke, Julia A.; Erickson, Gregory M.; and Norell, Mark (2007). "A basal dromaeosaurid and size evolution preceding avian flight" (pdf). Science 317: 1378–1381. doi:10.1126/science.1144066. PMID 17823350. 
  11. ^ Osmolska, Halszka, Currie, Philip J., Barsbold, Rinchen (2004) The Dinosauria Weishampel, Dodson, Osmolska. "Chapter 8 Oviraptorosauria" University of California Press.
  12. ^ Paul, G.S. (2002). Dinosaurs of the Air: The Evolution and Loss of Flight in Dinosaurs and Birds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. ISBN 0801867630
  13. ^ Lü, J., Dong, Z., Azuma, Y., Barsbold, R., and Tomida, Y. (2002). "Oviraptorosaurs compared to birds." In Zhou, Z., and Zhang, F. (eds.), Proceedings of the 5th Symposium of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution, 175–189. Beijing Science Press.
  14. ^ Maryanska, T., Osmólska, H., and Wolsam, M. (2002). "Avialian status for Oviraptorosauria." Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 47(1): 97–116. PDF fulltext
  15. ^ Martin, Larry D.,(2004) “A basal archosaurian origin for birds”, Acta Zoologica Sinica 50(6):978–990
  16. ^ Martin, L.D., and Czerkas, S.A. (2000). "The Fossil Record of Feather Evolution in the Mesozoic." American Zoologist, 40(4): 687–694. PDF fulltext

External links

  • Australian Museum: Chinese Dinosaurs: Caudipteryx zoui. Retrieved 2007-FEB-19.
  • Dino Russ's Lair: Caudipteryx reconstruction by paleoartist Jim Robins. Retrieved 2007-FEB-19.
  • Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: From Dinosaurs to Birds: Caudipteryx. Retrieved 2007-FEB-19.
  • Research Casting International: Life-size model of Caudipteryx zoui. Retrieved 2007-FEB-19.

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