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Obscure Mesozoic birds you’ll only know about if you’re a Mesozoic bird nerd: Jibeinia luanhera

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Time to recycle more old text, this time from my aborted dinosaur field guide project. Long-time Tet Zoo readers will know what I’m talking about (for more discussion see this article on ornithomimosaurs and this one on ankylosaurs).

Jibeinia luanhera holotype, redrawn from Hou (2000).

Jibeinia luanhera is a Lower Cretaceous toothed bird, named for the Hebei Region and Luanhe River in China. Originally stated to be from the Yixian Formation, it now seems that it is in fact from the (perhaps Aptian) Huajiying Formation (Jin et al. 2008). First mentioned in a book published in 1997 (Hou 1997), it wasn’t formally named until 2000 when Lianhai Hou described and illustrated it (Hou 2000). Hou (2000) seems to have regarded Jibeinia as part of Confuciusornithidae (and hence as closely related to the famous Confuciusornis), but also as close to the ancestry of enantiornithines (it’s actually difficult to work out exactly what he thought, since his views on bird evolution – at least as expressed in his books Mesozoic Birds of China and Picture Book of Chinese Fossil Birds - are somewhat vague and what you might regard as ‘non-standard’).

The Jibeinia holotype is reasonably complete and shows that it was a thrush-sized form capable of flying and perching. As expected in a bird from this part of the family tree (Jibeinia is most likely an enantiornithine), Jibeinia had unfused metacarpals, three clawed fingers, gastralia, and unserrated teeth. Its sternum seems to have lacked a keel (not a typical feature for an enantiornithine, though it is present in various members of the group).

The only known specimen hasn’t been subjected to enough technical study for there to be any firm conclusions as regards its phylogenetic affinities, and it was reported in 2001 that it had somehow become lost, with only low-quality casts remaining. This means that we’ll probably never get to  know more about it.

The Vescornis hebeiensis holotype, from Zhang et al. (2004).

In 2004, Zhang et al. (2004) described the new Huajiying Formation enantiornithine Vescornis hebeiensis, discovered at a nearby locality in Hebei Province. Because Vescornis is similar in size and in overall morphology to Jibeinia, Zhang et al. (2004) considered it plausible that the two might be the same thing (obviously, the loss of the Jibeinia holotype meant that they were unable to test this idea). That’s plausible, but the two are also different in some notable respects (Jibeinia’s unkeeled sternum differs from the keeled one present in Vescornis, and it has more phalanges in manual digit III and more maxillary teeth than Vescornis). Confusing things a little further is that Vescornis seems to be based on the specimen referred to as Hebeiornis fengningensis by Xu et al. (1999).

That about sums up what we know about Jibeinia. It’s a familiar enough taxon to Mesozoic bird nerds; to the rest of you, I assume it’s new. For previous Tet Zoo articles on enantiornithines and other Mesozoic birds, see…

Exciting news on Mesozoic birds to come very soon…

Refs – -

Hou, L. 1997. Mesozoic Birds of China. Phoenix Valley Bird Park, Lugu Hsiang, Taiwan.

- . 2000. Picture Book of Chinese Fossil Birds. Yunnan Science and Technology Press, Kunming, China.

Jin, F., Zhang, F. C., Li, Z. H., Zhang, J. Y., Li, C. & Zhou, Z. H. 2008. On the horizon of Protopteryx and the early vertebrate fossil assemblages of the Jehol Biota. Chinese Science Bulletin 53, 2820-2827.

Xu, G. L., Yang, Y. S. & Deng, S. Y. 1999. First discovery of Mesozoic bird fossils in Hebei Province and its significance.Regional Geology of China. 18, 444-448.

Zhang, F., Ericson, P. G. P. & Zhou, Z. 2004. Description of a new enantiornithine bird from the Early Cretaceous of Hebei, northern China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 41, 1097-1107.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Therizinosaurus 11:54 pm 08/6/2011

    Good ol’ Jibeinia. A few picky corrections, since I’m a card carrying Mesozoic bird nerd. Jibeinia was described and illustrated in the most detail in 1997, but since the name was only used in figure captions it wasn’t official until the less technical 2000 book was published. Three clawed fingers and unfused metacarpals are unusual for adult enantiornithines and along with other characters suggest Jibeinia is a juvenile. This would also explain the missing sternal keel. Unfortunately, since Hou’s descriptions and illustrations leave much to be desired, who knows what features of Jibeinia are real. Read more here.

    Link to this
  2. 2. naishd 5:28 am 08/7/2011

    Thanks indeed, Mickey…. though I’m not sure I see those comments as “corrections” :) It’s pretty appalling that so many Chinese holotypes seem to go missing – I’m sure this is unconnected to the fact that Chinese authors are paid for naming new species.

    Darren

    Link to this
  3. 3. pilsator 6:21 pm 08/7/2011

    Very nice post, although I didn’t know I qualify as a “Mesozoic bird nerd” (certainly not as much as Mickey) :)

    @Darren -
    An off-topic note: I’ve been reading Tet Zoo since ye olde blogspot days, though I’ve ever been a lurker. To me, it’s an immensely sad thing to see the awesome discussion culture of v2 go down the drain. Literally sad, as it’s always been a pleasure to read your well-researched articles and then skim to dozens of comments. Almost my entire non-dinosaur tetrapod knowledge is a product of Tet Zoo and the discussions the posts encouraged. Wanted to register here for quite a time, so sorry for being late to the party (and not having as much to say as many v2 regulars).

    To get BTT, getting paid for naming new species is certainly an explanation for things like Shenshiornis and various confuciusornithids that can’t be told apart from others. Now someone please register here to tell me how blockquotes work on SciAm :P

    Link to this
  4. 4. Dartian 2:17 am 08/8/2011

    Darren: I notice that you’re explicitly referring to Jibenia as a ‘bird’ here. Other researchers (I have recent discussions on the Dinosaur Mailing List in mind) seem to be of the opinion that no taxon that is outside the crown clade should be called a ‘bird’ even in the vernacular sense. What are your thoughts on this matter?

    Pilsator: Apparently, SciAm hasn’t really anticipated that blog commenters would engage in actual, you know, discussions in the threads.

    Link to this
  5. 5. naishd 4:45 am 08/8/2011

    Thanks much for comments. Now that commenting requires registration and logging-in, I really am appreciating the comments people leave all the more. Pilsator: as I’ve said before, I’ve done as much as I can behind the scenes to get SciAm to change, but nothing yet. I didn’t know it would be this way when I joined the network and am also saddened by it. I can only hope that the people who make these decisions at SciAm will come around in time.

    Dartian: as others have said, the fact that ‘bird’ is a vernacular term well established in common language means that it’s difficult to argue for a specific technical meaning. If Archaeopteryx is not part of Avialae, for example, does that really stop it from behind a ‘bird’? I’m not entirely sure. On the other hand, I can certainly see that ‘bird’ should be restricted to the members of Avialae. No matter what you might have heard, there are no indications that confuciusornithids, enantiornithines and so on are non-avialians: phylogenetic analyses (yes, even those now incorporating Xiaotingia) clearly find these groups to be part of Avialae, so they are still ‘birds’ in the strict sense.

    I am soooo looking forward to Wednesday :)

    Darren

    Link to this
  6. 6. Heteromeles 10:11 am 08/8/2011

    Darren,

    This isn’t a bird link, but you may want to forward this to stick-in-the-muds at Scientific American:

    http://boingboing.net/2011/08/05/300-million-button-making-customers-create-logins-to-buy-cost-etailer-300myear.html

    which cites this original article: http://www.uie.com/articles/three_hund_million_button

    It’s about the cost of forcing people to log in before they shopped a site. In the retail situation cited, it was $300,000,000/year. which was how much sales rose after they moved the log-in to the check-out screen.

    Given the way science has been taking a beating in the US government, I’m amazed that SciAm is foregoing so much free public goodwill and exposure.

    Link to this
  7. 7. BilBy 12:21 pm 08/8/2011

    May I just say – missing holotype?! WTF?! Sounds like you could provide us with a veeeery interesting post on the politics of new fossils and their provenance and validity. As a zoologist who works on behaviour I find this blog a great educational resource – to (sort of) second pilsator, almost all my dinosaur/pterosaur etc knowledge comes from here. It’s a pity, therefore, that is still no real uptick in the comments – where is the polymathic David Marjanovic for example? Can I repeat my request for a ‘latest comments’ sidebar? Having said that, I’ll still keep coming back, even if I’m mostly a lurker

    Link to this
  8. 8. David Marjanović 3:03 pm 08/8/2011

    Where I am? Lurking, waiting for the registration requirement to go away.

    …and then it turned out I already have a SciAm account. I must have created one to comment on something several years ago!

    Sooooo…

    Three clawed fingers and unfused metacarpals are unusual for adult enantiornithines and along with other characters suggest Jibeinia is a juvenile.

    Why would they lose one claw but not the others in ontogeny?

    Other researchers (I have recent discussions on the Dinosaur Mailing List in mind) seem to be of the opinion that no taxon that is outside the crown clade should be called a ‘bird’ even in the vernacular sense.

    Extremely few DML members seem to say that. Most just want to follow Gauthier, de Queiroz, Clarke & friends and decouple “birds” from Aves, attaching it to Avialae or something. IMNSHO, this is doomed to fail.

    BTW, Avialae has been having three competing definitions since 2001. Gauthier is a coauthor for all three, and they designate clades with different known contents.

    I am soooo looking forward to Wednesday :-)

    What’s going to happen? Are you talking about the online publication of the next Nature issue?

    ==============================================

    By the way… in the comment window, very strange things happen that hint at extreme incompetence on the side of the SciAm overlords:

    – PgDn can make the cursor disappear.
    – Double-clicking on a word doesn’t do anything. Everywhere else on every computer, including the published comments here, it highlights the word; not here.
    – Let’s see if blockquoting works, or if SciAm is as stupid as Blogspot — no, worse, because science requires more quoting:

    blockquote

    Link to this
  9. 9. David Marjanović 3:05 pm 08/8/2011

    Blockquoting does not work, and every empty line turns into two empty lines.
    Let’s see what happens to a single line break.

    Link to this
  10. 10. David Marjanović 3:06 pm 08/8/2011

    It stays a single line break. So I have the choice between a single line break and two empty lines.
    WTF?

    Link to this
  11. 11. David Marjanović 3:07 pm 08/8/2011

    Actually… not two, three.
    *headdesk*

    Link to this
  12. 12. Andreas Johansson 4:32 pm 08/8/2011

    I confess to bafflement more blogging platforms have messed up commenting formating than not. Online fora have been pretty good and consistent about it for over a decade, so why does blogging software seem to be reinventing the wheel by trial and error?

    Re: ‘birds’, I share David’s view that “bird” can’t be decoupled from “Aves”. At this point, I think the best solution would be to drop “Aves” altogether (it’s surely no more sacred than “Pisces”) and use Neornithes for the crown, Avialae for some phylocodically acceptable equivalent of Gauthier’s 86 definition (Ornithothoraces > Deinonychosauria). Not that I expect this will happen.

    Link to this
  13. 13. David Marjanović 5:16 pm 08/8/2011

    I confess to bafflement more blogging platforms have messed up commenting formating than not. Online fora have been pretty good and consistent about it for over a decade, so why does blogging software seem to be reinventing the wheel by trial and error?
    I bet forum software is written by people who actually post in fora. Blog software is clearly not written by people who actually comment on blogs or even just believe that comments are any more than meaningless chitchat. The history of ScienceBlogs is a sobering example of a blog network run by utterly clueless idiots who had no idea what was desirable or even just necessary.

    Link to this
  14. 14. David Marjanović 5:21 pm 08/8/2011

    Avialae for some phylocodically acceptable equivalent of Gauthier’s 86 definition (Ornithothoraces > Deinonychosauria)

    I think Aves should be defined this way. I still haven’t got around to publishing…

    An alternative, inspired by George Olshevsky*, would be to define the new name Ornithes this way and restrict Aves to the crown. This would parallel Ophidia and Serpentes and (sort of) Suchia and Crocodylia, as well as Testudinata and Testudines, Eutheria and Placentalia, Metatheria and Marsupialia, and a few others (though not in the same pattern of opposition between Greek-to-Latin synonymy).

    * “Dinogeorge”. Not to be confused with “Dinosaur George” Blasing of Jurassic Fight Club infame.

    Link to this
  15. 15. LeeB 1 7:34 pm 08/9/2011

    Also strange with regard to commenting here.
    Sometimes when I visit I am informed I am currently signed in and invited to add a comment, at other times I am asked to log in.
    It’s not consistent one way or the other, even though I always visit the site from the same computer.

    Peculiar!

    LeeB 1.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Therizinosaurus 3:47 am 08/10/2011

    “Why would they lose one claw but not the others in ontogeny?”

    Dunno why, but Fisher (1940) reported manual claws were more commonly found in young modern birds than in adults. Among enantiornithines, taxa with more than one phalanx on digit III (e.g. Protopteryx, Longipteryx) generally have other characters found in juveniles, such as less sacral vertebrae, small distal expansions on the posterolateral sternal process, poorly developed posteromedial sternal processes, a high interclavicular angle, a lack of various fusions, etc..

    Link to this

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