Description and ontogenetic assessment of a new Jehol microraptorine
Poust, Ashley William
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Fossils from the Jehol Group (Early Cretaceous, Liaoning Province, China) have greatly contributed to our understanding of the morphology and diversity of Paraves, the group of dinosaurs including sickle-clawed dromaeosaurs, large-brained troodontids, and avialians, the ancestors of modern birds. However, many taxa are represented by only a few specimens of unclear ontogenetic age. Without a thorough understanding of ontogeny, the evolutionary relationships and significance of character states may be obscured within paravian dinosaurs. A complete specimen of a new taxon of microraptorine dromaeosaur, Wulong bohaiensis gen. et sp. nov., from the Jiufotang Formation (upper Jehol Group) exhibits clearly juvenile morphology. The dinosaur is small and preserved in articulation on a single slab. It has microraptorine features such as a subarctometatarsalian foot, a short first manual digit, and a prominent tubercle on the pubis. Phylogenetic analysis substantiates this assignment. It also possesses more than 29 tail vertebrae, inclined pneumatic foramina on its dorsal vertebrae, and an unusually large coracoid fenestra, which with other features argue that it is a new taxon. This individual shows many osteological markers of immaturity identified in other archosaurs. Skull elements, all visible neurocentral sutures, pubes, and proximal tarsals remain unfused. Grainy surface texture of the cortical bone and poor ossification of long bone articular surfaces further supports an immature status. Histologic samples of the tibia, fibula, and humerus of this individual (the first microraptorine theropod to be sampled) confirm that it was around a single year in age and still growing at death, but that the growth had slowed. This slow down in growth is interesting in light of the presence of pennaceous feathers extending from the fore- and hind-limbs and, notably, two long plumes extending more than 12 cm from the tip of the caudal series. This indicates that presence of a variety of feather types, including filamentous feathers, pennaceous primaries, and long rectrices, likely used for ornamentation, preceded skeletal maturity and full adult size.