The diet of early birds
A review of early bird diet by me and my PhD student Case V. Miller entitled ‘The diet of early birds based on modern and fossil evidence and a new framework for its reconstruction’ has been accepted for publication in Biological Reviews. We look forward to sharing more about the review when it is published later this year. An early version of the review in preprint form can be viewed here: Congrats Case on your second thesis paper!

Anatomy and function of alvarezsaur theropod tails
We examined the comparative anatomy and myology of alvarezsaur tails to better understand how their tails evolved and functioned
Read more in the Cretaceous Research paper I co-authored with Jorge G. Meso and Z. Qin:

First oviraptorosaur theropod preserved atop a clutch of embryo-containing eggs
We described the first fossil of an oviraptorosaurian theropod preserved atop a clutch of embryo-containing eggs. Clutch geometry, advanced growth stages of the embryos and their high estimated incubation temperatures support brooding. Differences in the developmental stages among the embryos suggest that hatching was asynchronous. Together these findings indicate that reproductive biology evolved in a complex, non-linear manner along the theropod lineage to modern birds.
Read more in the Science Bulletin paper that I co-authored with Prof. Bi Shundong and Prof. Xu Xing:

Iconic fossil bird Archaeopteryx moulted like a falcon
The early bird Archaeopteryx moulted like falcons which adopt a moult strategy that maintains flight performance. This suggests that flight-related moulting was a welcome benefit to poorer flying early birds like Archaeopteryx.
Read more in the Communications Biology paper with Tom Kaye and William R Wahl:

Presenter of a dinosaur-themed classical concert
I was thrilled to present a dinosaur-themed classical music concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra on November 28th.
I’ve loved classical music since I was young so combining this interest with my palaeontology work was very exciting!
#HKPhil #2019GramophoneOrchestraoftheYear

Some enantiornithine ovarian follicles resemble plant propagules
We found that the ovarian follicles of some enantiornithine birds resemble Jehol Biota plant propagules, while the ovarian follicles of the confuciusornithid Eoconfuciusornis are inconsistent with LSF data.

Bizarre bat-winged dinosaur Yi qi and Ambopteryx were poor gliders
We evaluated the aerodynamic capabilities of the scansoriopterygids Yi qi and Ambopteryx, two very strange bat-winged pennaraptorans from China.  We found that they were poor gliders, part of a dead-end experiment in flight evolution.
Press release details are here:

Beak of Confuciusornis uncovers insights in early avian beak form, function and development

Congratulations to PhD student Case Miller on his first paper at HKU!
The team used LSF imaging to study the beak of Confuciusornis uncovering insights in early avian beak form, function and development.
Watch the video summary here:
Communications Biology paper URL:

Edited volume: Pennaraptoran Theropod Dinosaurs: past progress and new frontiers

Delighted to share our pennaraptoran theropod dinosaur volume in the Bulletin of American Museum of Natural History
Covering past progress + new frontiers, it involved 49 amazing authors + developed from a 2018 symposium at The University of Hong Kong
Special thanks to my co-editor Prof. Xu Xing
We hope you enjoy it!

Many ancestors of bird relatives neared powered flight potential and flight evolved at least twice outside of birds

Our avian flight origins study in Current Biology used a revised phylogeny to show that the potential for powered flight originated 3+ times and that many ancestors of bird relatives neared powered flight potential. This suggests that there was broad experimentation with wing-assisted locomotion before theropod flight evolved.
Read the paper here:
Palaeoart by Julius Csotonyi

Autonomous ‘hunter drone’ that finds fossils, minerals and biological targets

Find fossils, minerals and biological targets with lasers using a ‘hunter drone’ that searches autonomously at night!
Reported in Methods in Ecology and Evolution:
#hunterdrone #realsciencefiction

Assistant Dean (e-learning)

I am delighted to announce that I have been appointed the Assistant Dean (e-learning) of the Faculty of Science. Over my term, I will lead the development and implementation of the faculty’s e-learning strategy. I look forward to working with faculty colleagues to bring our e-learning to heights.

Third edition of Dinosaur Ecosystems completed!

Massive thank you to my course team and our wonderful learners for an amazing six weeks in the world of dinosaurs:

See you next time!

Highlights from December 2018 to January 2019 trip to New York and Argentina

Visit the American Museum of Natural History and then flew down to
Argentina for field work, research + Dinosaur Ecosystems MOOC filming w/ Diego Pol of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio. Saw a number of importance specimens across Neuquen and Rio Negro provinces and meet a number of wonderful colleagues for the first time: Rodolofo Corio, Leonardo Filippi and Jorge Calvo. Visited Federico Agnolin and colleagues at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” in Buenos Aires. Worked with Santiago Reuil to produce two cardboard dinosaur masks for Dinosaur Ecosystems.

Amber symposium in Bangkok, Thailand

Had a great trip to Bangkok for a Burmese amber workshop.

Research visit to the Verulamium Museum in St. Albans, UK

Had a wonderful time working with the curator David Thorold and Tom Kaye to LSF Roman artefacts.

HKU research visit by Thomas G Kaye

Great having Tom Kaye at HKU Department of Earth Sciences to work on a range of ongoing projects supported by the HKU Faculty of Science RAE Improvement Fund.

Australia October 2019: SVP Annual Meeting & ANSTO neutron and synchrotron imaging experiments

This was one of my favourite SVPs so far. It was a pleasure to moderate the bird origin and evolution session with Aurore Canoville and to contribute a talk on flight-related soft tissues. PhD student Arindam Roy talked about palaeocolour reconstruction at the podium symposium ‘From molecules to macroevolution’. Had an awesome experience conducting neutron and synchrotron imaging experiments with Joseph Bevitt of ANSTO.

Amniote palaeocolour reconstruction

What colour were fossil animals?

Find out about colour reconstruction in ancient reptiles and mammals as well as a new study framework in our open access Biological Reviews paper:

Congratulations to Arindam Roy on his first peer-reviewed publication!

Summer fieldwork in Wyoming, USA

Summer fieldwork in central eastern Wyoming with Tom Kaye included a visit to the home of T. rex and Triceratops! 🦖🤠

Born to run: early birds ready to fly after hatching

Using LSF imaging, we revealed feathering around the body of a ~126 million year old enantiornithine bird hatchling🐣 This indicates that it came ‘out of the egg running’ and was probably ready-to-fly! 🐥 This precocial strategy appears to be the primary one among early birds, unlike most living birds which have helpless newborns that require more parental care. Troodontids may also have been precocial so precociality probably had deeper theropod origins.

The identify of the first discovered fossil feather

The first discovered fossil feather was originally referred to the iconic bird Archaeopteryx. Using LSF, we reveal that the long lost quill of the fossil specimen and use its complete morphology to show that it does not match the plumage of known Archaeopteryx specimens. Instead, the feather seems to belong to another feathered dinosaur!

Highlights from December 2018 – January 2019 research trip to Argentina

  • Talk on theropod flight origins at Investigadores y Becarios UEL, Fundacion Miguel Lillo in Tucuman as a guest of Prof. Pablo Goloboff:

  • Carnotaurus and paravian specimens at Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” in Buenos Aires w/ Fernandos Novas, Federico Agnolin and colleagues:
  • Dinosaur footprints in the Maastrichtian Yacoraite Formation of Jujuy Province.
  • Visits to the spectacular Parque Nacional Talampaya & Parque Provincial Ischigualasto in Patagonia:
  • Visit to Ricardo Martinez’s lab and the early dinosaurs in the Museo de Ciencias Naturales in San Juan.
  • Visit to Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio in Trelew w/ Diego Pol at 
  • Fieldwork in the Carnotaurus locality. Late Cretaceous & Palaeogene La Colonia Formation of Chubut Province:

Pterosaur feathering discovering in Nature Ecology and Evolution

Delighted to share a co-authored Nature Ecology & Evolution paper w/ Prof. Michael Benton (Bristol) and Prof. Baoyu Jiang (Nanjing) about pterosaur integumentary structures.

It was a great pleasure to #LSF the Nanjing specimen with Tom Kaye to show the extent of its soft tissue preservation (black in the image).

The integumentary structures we describe look just like those of feathered theropod dinosaurs, which we suggest indicates a deeper origin of feathers.

2018 Yidan Prize presentation & summit

Left to Right: Prof. Ricky Kwok, Associate Vice-President (Teaching and Learning) HKU  / Michael Pittman / Prof. Anant Agarwal, Founder and CEO of edX, 2018 Yidan Prize for Education Development Laureate / Prof. Chetwyn Chan, Associate Vice President (Learning and Teaching), The Hong Kong Polytechnic University / Prof. Ting-Chuen Pong, Director of Center for Engineering Education Innovation, HKUST

Honoured to represent HKU at these prestigious events. Lots of inspiration for my future teaching!

Thanks for joining us for the Second Edition of Dinosaur Ecosystems!
Hope you enjoyed the course. See you next time for the Third Edition.

Morphological Datasets Fit a Common Mechanism Much More Poorly than DNA Sequences and Call Into Question the Mkv Model

Delighted to share our paper in #SystematicBiology:

Led by Pablo Goloboff & co-authored by me, Diego Pol + Xu Xing

#phylogenetics #Bayesiananalysis #morphologicaldata #Mkvmodel

HKU EarthSciences @ Information Day

It was great connecting with prospective students. Thank you everyone for the fruitful Q&As at our booths next to the Stephen Hui Geological Museum & #YuetMingFoundationArea. As the Chairman of the departmental Outreach Committee I helped to organise the department’s contribution to this event.

Award for Teaching Innovations in e-learning

Delighted to share that I received Faculty of Science, The University of Hong Kong Award for Teaching Innovations in #elearning for my work on Dinosaur Ecosystems

Thanks to the course team + students for making this possible!

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology #2018SVP Annual Meeting 

                                                      Thanks for coming to my talk on #theropod #flightorigins. Really appreciate the nice feedback. Congratulations to my students Arindam Roy and Raymond Fong on their first #SVP talks as PhD students. Talks on #Yiqi and #Lystrosaurus respectively.

Lunch Event of HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems – October 4th 2018

On Thursday October 4th 2018, we will launch the second edition of Dinosaur Ecosystems, HKU’s prize-nominated MOOC course that I produced and teach.

RSVP at (limited places filled on a first come first serve basis)

Course trailer

You can enrol for free at

Follow the course on Facebook and Twitter

Find more about our nomination for the 2018 edX Prize for Exceptional Contributions in Online Teaching and Learning at

International Palaeontological Congress 5 – Paris, France

 From July 9th – 13th, I attended the fifth International Palaeontological Congress in Paris, France. I presented two talks on theropod flight origins and my collaborator Dr. Diego Pol presented a third talk on our recent work on phylogenetic methods. The congress was really enjoyable and productive. I joined a post-congress fieldtrip to the famous Early Cretaceous Angeac-Charente locality, which involved helping with their on-going excavations. I produced this video on it as part of the upcoming second edition of my HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems.

Diego presenting our talk               

A gathering of bird researchers

A road named after the famous naturalist

Even the hotel was bird-themed!

Excavations at the Angeac-Charente locality. The site is famous for its herd of ornithomimosaurs.

Inaugural International Pennaraptoran Dinosaur Symposium hosted at HKU


Symposium poster                                   Group photo of attendees

From March 29th-31st, our lab hosted the inaugural International Pennaraptoran Dinosaur Symposium at HKU with Prof. Xing Xu (IVPP). 30 attendees from 7 countries shared and discussed their work on pennaraptoran dinosaurs to deepen our understanding of avian and flight origins. The symposium: documented existing points of consensus and disagreement in the field; built consensus in new areas through symposium discussions; reported cutting-edge discoveries in new areas of research and discussed their future directions. The results of the symposium will be published in a journal volume in 2019 and focuses on the consensus that was built on unresolved issues.

Mr. Arindam Roy collecting his best talk prize on day 2. Mr. Josef Stiegler (GWU, USA) was awarded the best talk prize on day 1.  Thanks to our judges Dr. Peter Makovicky and Dr. Hans Larsson!

A new species of crownward troodontid

Almas ukhaa, a short-snouted crownward troodontid

In December 2017, Dr. Rui Pei, an ex-VPL postdoc, announced the discovery of Almas ukhaa, a new species of short-snouted crownward troodontid from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. Almas is described in the paper ‘Osteology of a new Late Cretaceous troodontid specimen from Ukhaa Tolgod, Ömnögovi Aimag, Mongolia‘ in American Museum Novitates.

The mandible of Gigantoraptor, the largest beaked theropod

The mandible of Gigantoraptor, the giant oviraptorosaur.

In November 2017, Ms. Fion Wai Sum MA, an ex-undergraduate student of mine, published her first scientific paper in Scientific Reports on the ‘Functional anatomy of a giant toothless mandible from a bird-like dinosaur: Gigantoraptor and the evolution of the oviraptorosaurian jaw‘.

This paper is the first detailed description of the spectacular jaw of this iconic oviraptorosaur and leverages new insights to comment on the evolution of the oviraptorosaurian jaw. This study was part of Fion’s faculty Overseas Research Fellowship and departmental Final Year Project, both of which were co-supervised by Prof. Xing Xu of the IVPP. This project was completed in collaboration with colleagues in Inner Mongolia, including Prof. Lin Tan of the Longhao Institute of Geology and Paleontology.

Fion is continuing her work on the oviraptorosaur skull as an MSc student of Dr. Stephen Brusatte at the University of Edinburgh. Fion will be starting a PhD on the same subject at the University of Birmingham in October 2018. Her supervisors will be Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager, myself and Prof. Richard Butler.

A new species of asymmetrically feathered troodontid

Jianianhualong tengi an asymmetrically feathered troodontid

Jianianhualong tengi  is from the Early Cretaceous of Northeastern China. It has transitional features and along with Sinusonasus provides evidence of mosaic evolution in troodontids.

The asymmetrical feathers in this taxon represent the first record in a troodontid. Taken together with other paravian feathering data, this new find suggests that the common ancestor of Paraves possessed asymmetrical feathers too.

The study is co-lead with Prof. Xu Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and Prof. Philip Currie of the University of Alberta (Canada).

Life reconstruction by Julius T. Csotonyi.

Select coverage at:

National Geographic (commentary by Dr. Ryan Carney)


am730 (in Chinese)

The Standard

Feathered dinosaur Anchiornis in the flesh

The wing of the stemward paravian, Anchiornis.

In this study, we produced the first quantitative body outline of a feathered dinosaur with the help of laser-based fossil imaging (laser-stimulated fluorescence imaging). We used these data as other soft tissue details of the wing and feet to comment on the functional anatomy of stemward paravians.

Video summary:


Direct download

The study is co-lead with Prof. Wang Xiaoli of Linyi University and features the spectacular fossils of the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature (China). Tom Kaye ensured our images were as good as they could be.

We worked with the wonderful Scott Hartman to carefully produce this amazing body outline. Life reconstruction by Julius T. Csotonyi.

Select coverage:

National Geographic…/anchiornis-bird-like-…/ (commentary from Prof. John R. Hutchinson)

BBC News (commentary from Dr. Stephen Brusatte)

Cosmos Magazine (commentary from Prof. Michael Benton and Prof. Phil Manning)

Christian Science Monitor (commentary from Dr. Stephen Brusatte and Dr. Peter Makovicky)

Apple Daily (in Chinese)

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