March 10, 2003

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Contact: Wakefield Dort, Geology, (785) 864-2727.

KU paleontologist to lecture on 4-winged wonder and feathered dinosaurs

LAWRENCE -- Larry Martin, paleontologist and curator for the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas, will talk about a wondrous recent discovery in China of a four-winged animal that may be proof that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs. Martin will speak at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, in the Kansas Room of the Kansas Union.

His talk, "The 4-Winged Wonder and Other Feathered Dinosaurs," is free and open to the public, and it is sponsored by Sigma Xi, an international honorary scientific research society.

"Few fossils have the potential to destroy so many well-established theories as a new fossil from the Chinese Mesozoic (Age of Dinosaurs)," Martin said. "This new animal, Cryptovolans, called Microraptor in a paper published in Nature, had a feathered wing made up of the arms, the usual place for birds, but there was also a second set constructed from the hind legs with the longest feathers coming off of the foot.

"The presence of long rods in the tail and an enlarged claw on the second toe of the foot suggests relationship to the maniraptorians, a group of supposed dinosaurs that many think were ancestral to birds. The authors of the Nature paper think that their animal represents a primitive member of this group. "

Martin says that it seems to be the best evidence possible of a radical idea proposed by Gregory S. Paul, a Maryland paleontologist and author, that maniraptorian dinosaurs are actually flightless birds derived from some animal similar to the oldest bird, Archaeopteryx.

"This solves many problems including why many of the features of maniraptorians are more advanced than those in the oldest birds and why all of their known fossils are younger than those of perfectly good birds," Martin said. "The common ancestor of all of these animals would seem to have been a lizard-like arboreal glider." Birds can be derived from dinosaurs only if such an animal can be included in the Dinosauria.

Martin's talk follows a Sigma Xi reception for 15 new members and an awards ceremony offering $1,500 in prizes for the best presentation of a scientific paper by students. Three awards of $500 each will be made to an undergraduate, a beginning graduate student and an advanced graduate student.

Membership in Sigma Xi is by invitation. There are about 70,000 members in more than 500 chapters in the United States. KU's chapter was the fourth in the nation, established in 1898.

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