Published on December 1st, 2014 | by David Marshall


Episode 37: Theropods and birds

Theropods are what we would classically recognise as the meat-eating dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era. They are best known from genera such as Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor but the group is much more diverse and includies herbivores, beaked and ostrich-like forms. It is however the link between theropods and birds that has long-caught the public’s attention and perhaps represents one of the most scrutinised evolutionary transitions. As more dinosaurs are discovered with feathers, should we still be asking  where the cut-off point is between the two groups and not if there should be a distinction?

We caught up with Dr. Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh,  at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, who spoke to us about the relationship between theropods and birds.

Brusatte Lyme Regis 2

Dr Steve Brusatte looking at ammonites around Lyme Regis on the world-famous Jurassic Coast.

Brusatte Spain LK 2014 2

Visiting a Cretaceous dinosaur tracksite in Spain.


Looking for Triassic vertebrate footprints in a quarry in Poland, part of Steve’s work there with Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki, Tomas Sulej, and Richard Butler studying the rise of archosaurs. This area has revealed many important fossils related to the origin of dinosaurs.


Speaking to school kids about dinosaurs, using his book Dinosaurs (Quercus Publishing, 2008) as a prop.


The maxilla of the giant African theropod Carcharodontosaurus, the first theropod Steve studied when he was a student of Paul Sereno’s as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago.


Liaoning, China has produced some of the most important feathered dinosaur fossils, which are on display in Beijing.


Excavating a temnospondyl bonebed in the Late Triassic of the Algarve, Portugal, with Octavio Mateus, Richard Butler, Seb Steyer, and many students and volunteers.


The feathered theropod Sinornithosaurus, a dromaeosaur closely related to Velociraptor, and one of the closest dinosaurian cousins to birds.


A life reconstruction of the “Pinocchio rex” tyrannosaur Qianzhousaurus from the Late Cretaceous of southern China. Drawing by Chuang Zhao.


Simplified coelurosaur relationships found in Brusatte et al. 2014, showing where birds fit in within theropod dinosaurs. Image credit: Steve Brusatte.

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