This is a complete remake of an old picture of mine, and is hopefully the last full picture for this creation/evolution book, though I know I've been saying that for a while. It's very interesting how much the scope of the project has, well, evolved since 2008.
This painting is, obviously, a depiction of Microraptor gui gliding down from a rock. It is a rock and not a tree branch because (in my opinion, at least) there is not yet enough evidence for the idea that Microraptor was arboreal, so it's possible that it didn't spend very much time in trees at all. Here it is chasing Pompiloperus, a species of early Cretaceous Jehol digger wasp. Insect-chasing was unlikely to be something that Microraptor did often, but as we can learn from All Yesterdays, animals commonly do things they don't do commonly, if you know what I mean.
This is old news at this point, but the main impetus for deciding to redo the old drawing was the Microraptorcolor study, which revealed a few finer points of the animal: that its long-assumed headcrest was more likely to be an artifact of smushed feathers in fossilization, that at least some Microraptor had a pair of long tail ribbons extending back from the fan, and most notably, that the animal's feathers were iridescent, perhaps shiny blue-black like a crow.
There seems to be some debate at present about whether Microraptor's legwings were typically held perpendicular to the metatarsals or more in parallel when gliding, so I painted them somewhat intermediate - a likely position for takeoff, I think.
This represents probably over 100 hour of work and is entirely hand-painted in Photoshop CS4. As always, a huge thanks to ~Agahnim for endless support, critiques and suggestions.
Be sure to buy the book if you want to see this in high-res!
This will be my last upload for 2012 (perhaps my last ever, if the Mayans are right ). May 2013 be full of many featheries!
Beautiful, as all your artwork is - love looking through your gallery! Microraptor's feet are neat for sure. You do have to wonder what it looked like when it moved on the ground, too! My mom keeps various breeds of chicken, including one called Belgian dúccle (example [link] ), which have feathered feet, not just fuzzy feet like many chickens do, but the roosters at least have proper, large feathers, she has one in particular with long purdy feathers... They look hilarious when they run because they lift their feet really high and at a high speed run it almost looks like they have to struggle to remain on the ground lol. Wonder if Microraptor would have something similar going on while on the ground...
Thank you very much, Nova! That is really interesting about the Belgian dúccle chickens. Most of my "Microraptor not gliding" images are loosely based off fancy pigeons, specifically types like this [link] and [link] . I hadn't considered using chickens for reference though and now I'm looking up videos of them running! This is giving me some great ideas for new paleoart, hah.
While I like the drawing itself (Seriously, this is 1 of your more beautiful drawings IMO), I somewhat disagree w/a few of the artistic choices.
"It is a rock and not a tree branch because (in my opinion, at least) there is not yet enough evidence for the idea that Microraptor was arboreal, so it's possible that it didn't spend very much time in trees at all."
I definitely disagree w/that, given the evidence (Besides Microraptor's seeming preference for scansorial/arboreal prey, see the Naish quote).
"Here it is chasing Pompiloperus, a species of early Cretaceous Jehol digger wasp. Insect-chasing was unlikely to be something that Microraptor did often, but as we can learn from All Yesterdays, animals commonly do things they don't do commonly, if you know what I mean."
I get what you're saying, but I think it would be better if it was either chasing an enantiornithine (in reference to O'Connor et al. 2011) or nothing at all (No offense, but the wasp looks kinda stuck on).
"There seems to be some debate at present about whether Microraptor's legwings were typically held perpendicular to the metatarsals or more in parallel when gliding, so I painted them somewhat intermediate - a likely position for takeoff, I think."
I could be wrong, but last I checked, the general consensus (or, at the very least, the most well-supported hypothesis) was that the hindwing configuration depended on the flight stage (See the last 10 minutes: [link] ).
Quoting Naish ( [link] ): "Based on what I know about living animals, I find it hard to look at Archaeopteryx, at an enantiornithine, or even at Deinonychus and Velociraptor without coming away with the idea that these animals very probably could climb if they wanted to (this contention is based on body size, limb proportions, forelimb orientation, and hand and foot anatomy). That doesn’t mean that they didn’t walk, run or forage on the ground for much or most of their time, in fact animals like Velociraptor- and Deinonychus-sized dromaeosaurids were obviously predominantly terrestrial. But if they needed to climb a tree – if it was a good idea in avoiding predators, or when finding food or shelter – I’m confident that they could do it. When it comes to Microraptor and some other small deinonychosaurs, their curved claws, insane hindlimb plumage and small body size all render it likely that climbing was a frequent activity. The inference that there’s an incompatability between the dinosaurian origin of birds and a ‘trees-down’ origin for flight is flatly incorrect, though I’m not necessarily saying that maniraptoran flight originated in a strictly arboreal context."
In principle, I agree with you that Microraptor was very likely to have (at least) some amount of arboreal ability, for Naish's piece on claws and many other reasons. However, this certainly does not preclude its ability to glide off rocks! If I recall correctly (and bear with me, it was almost 5 years ago) it was actually Scott who encouraged me to draw it gliding from a rock rather than from a tree. Arboreal evidence aside, think of it from a sort of All Yesterdays perspective: sundry illustrations of Microraptor in trees, climbing trees, and gliding from trees have been done, but much fewer exist showing the animal gliding from higher ground to lower, which it certainly would have also been capable of doing!
I also am a very strong believer that the known gut contents of Microraptor absolutely do not indicate it was a solely arboreal predator. Remember, one of the greatest predators of birds is the common housecat! (And it is not usually killing them in trees.)
I can appreciate the sentiment about including an enantiornithine, but I must defend that choice as well: I strongly believe that Microraptor was likely an omnivore that employed a very wide variety of dietary supplement, and I thought it would be kind of boring to paint it chasing something that's already been published and illustrated. A second large feathered animal in the spotlight (especially so close to the viewer) would also have been really distracting: these illustrations are meant to be largely diagnostic, showing off the animal's anatomy and full body from a non-confusing perspective, and needs above all else to be understandable to Creationists. So a certain amount of simplicity is required. I can appreciate that you think it'd look better chasing nothing, and that is how I planned the composition originally. I included the wasp because I think it works better compositionally, and also because I enjoy educating people about a piece of the invertebrate Jehol fauna, which tends to enjoy much less of the illustrative spotlight than its feathered contemporaries.
It is too bad that it looks "stuck on". I struggled somewhat with getting the wasp to look naturally blended with the environment (trust me, it looked much worse earlier on) but I guess I didn't wholly succeed at that.
Lastly, the issue with the legwings: In the description for the piece, I link to the new research (yet unpublished) indicating that Microraptor may have held them differently in flight/glide, which is much more recent than that PBS special (incidentally I showed that to a few people not long ago and they were uncertain at how accurately the legwings were depicted). Every professional I've talked to about this specific issue have indicated that legwing position is not yet an open-and-shut case, so I thought it prudent to remain conservative in my depiction so as to avoid the likelihood of it being rendered inaccurate in the future. The position I drew the legwings at is intermediate between the positions of the two "camps" and would have been possible in a takeoff position if either "camp" ends up correct. Keep in mind that the animal is not yet in a full glide here, it is in a leap.
"sundry illustrations of Microraptor in trees, climbing trees, and gliding from trees have been done, but much fewer exist showing the animal gliding from higher ground to lower, which it certainly would have also been capable of doing!"
No worries. I understand what you're saying. In retrospect, your Microraptor could've climbed up the tree & onto the rock while chasing the insect (The way PD's Microraptor climbed up the tree & onto the branch while chasing the lizard: [link] ). Even still, there must've been slower/tastier Jehol insects than the wasp. Any Jehol lepidopterans as far as we know fossil-wise?
"I also am a very strong believer that the known gut contents of Microraptor absolutely do not indicate it was a solely arboreal predator."
Remember, I said "scansorial/arboreal prey", not just "arboreal prey".
"I strongly believe that Microraptor was likely an omnivore that employed a very wide variety of dietary supplement"
I don't disagree w/the possibility of Microraptor sometimes eating insects, given its small size. However, I do disagree w/it being an omnivore, given its dentition. Its teeth aren't like those of troodonts or therizinosaurs, but like those of other dromaeosaurs (Bladed & serrated, albeit less so than those of larger dromaeosaurs).
"It is too bad that it looks "stuck on"."
In retrospect, "stuck on" was the wrong way to phrase it. What I meant was that it doesn't look like your Microraptor is actually chasing the wasp, given the wasp's position in the drawing relative to your Microraptor.
"Lastly, the issue with the legwings"
In retrospect, I should've re-read the BU article (I only read it once b-4 & that was last year), which mentioned the PBS doc ("One of the initial theories...").
BTW, in reference to the 3rd hypothesis, are Habib & Hall arguing that Microraptor was a glider that used its hindwings for stabilising/steering? I ask b/c it sounds like what the Gardom & Milner & Holtz quotes are referring to. Is it &, if so, does that mean it's an old idea that's only just been tested scientifically? Just making sure I follow.
"Keep in mind that the animal is not yet in a full glide here, it is in a leap."
Again, no worries. I got that from the start, given that the legs are extended back (& that the drawing is titled "Microraptor Takeoff" ).
Quoting Gardom & Milner ( [link] ): "This has given rise to speculation as to whether there might have been a four-winged gliding stage in flight evolution with the hind wings acting like stabilising canards on an aircraft."
Quoting Holtz ( [link] ): "Elongate leg feathers may have helped the dinosaurs steer during a dive, just as today some raptorial birds use them to help aim when diving for prey; similarly, the modified eumaniraptoran tail may have helped as a dynamic stabilizer in flight (as well as on the ground, or while in the trees)."
Actually, Microraptor dentition is considered somewhat 'intermediate' between troodontids and dromaeosaurs. [link] This paper found Microraptor to actually have some characteristics associated with herbivory, at least compared to other dromaeosaurs. I've long thought that Microraptor was likely an opportunistic omnivore and perhaps had a similar lifestyle to that of a crow or starling, which will eat just about anything. This was going to be the topic of my All Yesterdays entry actually.
As for the insect issue, I wasn't really imagining that the animal would have gone to great lengths to pursue the wasp. Maybe it was just sitting on the rock, saw it fly by, and thought "HEY! POTENTIAL MEAL!" A lot of animals - from opportunistic omnivores to hypercarnivores - will snap at passing insects.
As for your other questions, I'll have to look at the source material again and form up a more cohesive response when it's less late.
Sorry for the delayed response. I got busy w/other stuff & forgot.
"Actually, Microraptor dentition is considered somewhat 'intermediate' between troodontids and dromaeosaurs. [link]"
I wouldn't say that based on Zanno & Makovicky 2010. I've read through it a few times just to make sure I didn't miss anything important, but AFAICT, the only "intermediate" dromaeosaurs mentioned are unenlagiines. Even then, as pointed out in the Zanno/Makovicky quote, the intermediateness doesn't necessarily indicate omnivory, but maybe non-hyper forms of specialized carnivory. The latter seems more likely, given what we know about unenlagiines (See "Conclusions": [link] ). The CHT difference btwn microraptorines & eudromaeosaurs is only slight (1 or 2), hence why they're grouped together when compared to the "intermediate" unenlagiines ("Reconstructed CHT number ≤3 for all dromaeosaurs except Rahonavis, Buitreraptor, and Unenlagia"). If anything, said difference probably has more to do w/microraptorines being hypercarnivorous on a smaller scale than eudromaeosaurs (small prey hunting vs. big game hunting, respectively). Again, though, I don't doubt the possibility of them occasionally eating invertebrates the way living hypercarnivores do.
"Maybe it was just sitting on the rock, saw it fly by, and thought "HEY! POTENTIAL MEAL!""
In retrospect, I should've figured that, given it's similarity to this piece: [link]
"As for your other questions, I'll have to look at the source material again and form up a more cohesive response when it's less late."
Looking forward to it.
Quoting Zanno/Makovicky: "Among basal members of several subclades, CHTs numbers are indefinite. Basal troodontids (other than Jinfengopteryx) ex- hibit at least two CHTs and ancestral state reconstructions allow...for up to six in some taxa. For unenlagiine dromaeosaurids and the basal maniraptoran Ornitholestes an intermediate number of estimated and confirmed CHTs also precludes trophic assign- ment and dietary habits remain inconclusive (Fig. 2 C and D and Table S3). Intermediate numbers of CHTs in these taxa may indicate omnivory or dietary specializations not manifest widely in other coelurosaurians (e.g., insectivory). Given the diet of basal paravians does not conform to predominant carnivory and may reflect omnivory, this pattern supports the hypothesis that hypercarnivory in derived paravians is a secondary dietary spe- cialization and that the primitive diet for paravians includes an herbivorous component (11)."
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`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More