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Did You Know? 17 Incredible Jeholornis Facts

Learn some mind-blowing Jeholornis facts!

Jeholornis is an extinct genus of dinosaurs that are considered to be the ancestors of modern birds. It was a flying dinosaur that was covered with feathers and was discovered in the Jiufotang Formation in China, where many other feathered dinosaurs have also been found. The Formation is a part of the Jehol Group, which contains the fossils of all living beings that lived in China during the Early Cretaceous. This bird's diet was comprised of seeds and it is characterized by its long tail and feathers in a fan-like formation at the tip of the tail that resembles a palm frond that could have been used for display. Though its flight feathers were long, it would not have been able to lift its arms like modern birds and achieve flapping flight, but it could have glided. The genus consists of three different species, J. prima, J. palmapenis, and J. curvipes. Jeholornia prima is considered to be the type species. Over 100 specimens have been found belonging to this genus, but only a handful of them contain traces of feathers, and only seven of them have been given a formal description. For a long time, a specimen of another bird named Shenzhouraptor was attributed to and considered to be a synonym of Jeholornis prima, but recently in 2020, it has been considered to be a new species that is separate from Jeholornis.

These Mesozoic birds were very large for their kind and displayed many primitive features of their ancestors that have now come to be discarded by modern birds, such as long tails, clawed wings, and teeth. They were found in the Lower Cretaceous rock strata, which corresponds to the Early Cretaceous, which suggests that these birds lived almost 120 million years ago.

If you liked reading about the Jeholornis, you should check out our Pleurosaurus facts and Ludodactylus pages.

Jeholornis Interesting Facts

Was the Jeholornis a dinosaur?

Yes, Jeholornis can be considered a dinosaur. However, unlike many other dinosaurs, it was feathered and it could have had the ability to fly.

How do you pronounce 'Jeholornis'?

Jeholornis was named and first described by Zhou and Zhang in 2002. The name is phonetically pronounced as 'je-hol-or-niss'.

What type of prehistoric animal was a Jeholornis?

Jeholornis was a theropod dinosaur that was placed in the clade Avialae within the larger clade Theropoda. Members of Avialae are considered to be feathered dinosaurs that were capable of flight and could be closely related to modern birds. Jeholornis, along with Archaeopteryx, were early or basal Avialans that retained certain primitive features such as long tails and teeth. Zhou and Zhang also formed a new family Jeholornithidae to place this bird. This group is said to consist of many Avialan birds but excludes modern birds.

In which geological period did the Jeholornis live?

The fossils of this long-tailed seed-eating bird were recovered from the Lower Cretaceous rock strata. This means that it would have lived during the Aptian age of the Early Cretaceous of China in the province that was previously called Jehol, around 125-120.4 million years ago.

When did the Jeholornis become extinct?

Since the fossil remains of this bird were recovered from the rock strata corresponding to the Lower Cretaceous, it would not have existed after the end of the Early Cretaceous period. The reason for their extinction is currently unknown.

Where did a Jeholornis live?

The first specimen of this bird was found in the Jiufotang Formation and many other specimens have been recovered from the Yixian Formation as well. Both of these Formations are a part of the Jehol Group, which refers to the ecosystem of China in the Early Cretaceous and contains all living organisms from that time, that is, 133-120 million years ago. The name of this bird is also thought to be a reference to the Jehol group, which is where its fossils were originally found.

What was a Jeholornis habitat?

Around 120 million years ago, the region that is now known as the Jiufotang Formation was dominated by wetlands and lakes. There would have been periodic volcanic eruptions and seasonal rainfall during that time in the Jiufotang Formation as well.

Who did a Jeholornis live with?

It is thought that these birds would have lived on their own instead of forming groups or living in pairs. This basal avialan would have lived among other flying dinosaurs, such as the pterosaur Sinopterus, and the dromaeosaurid Microraptor, whose preserved fossils have also been recovered from the Jiufotang Formation in China.

How long did a Jeholornis live?

Information about the lifespan of this prehistoric animal is currently unavailable due to a lack of research and evidence. However, it had a very slow development and took a long time to grow into adults. A similar trait was described in other primitive Avialan birds of the time as well, such as Archaeopteryx. This was unique, given that more derived and modern birds are known to grow very fast.

How did they reproduce?

These Mesozoic birds were oviparous and laid eggs from which their young ones emerged.

Jeholornis Fun Facts

What did a Jeholornis look like?

Jeholornis was a large Mesozoic bird that had long feathers and sported a feathered frond at the tip of its tail.

Jeholornis was a large bird for its kind with long feathers and a long bony tail. They had a large wingspan of about 3.2 ft (1 m). The Jeholornis skull was short and small but quite high. Its tail featured a fan of feathers at the tip that looked like a palm frond. From the structure and form of these feathers, it was clear that they did not have an aerodynamic purpose, which might indicate that they were only present for display purposes. There was also a second fan-shaped frond of feathers that was located on the back of the center of its caudal or tail vertebrae. These feathers could've helped them in flying.

The lower jaws of these birds were slightly curved downwards, supposedly for easier picking of the seeds. The number of teeth in their lower and upper jaws varied in all three different species. The forelimbs of these birds were longer than their hindlimbs. The first toe on their legs, which is usually reversed in modern birds, was partially reversed in these birds. Thus, the first toes on the legs of birds could've been something that developed with their evolution.

How many bones did a Jeholornis have?

Fossil specimens of these birds have been found in varying degrees of preservation but a complete skeleton has not yet been found. Therefore, the total number of bones this bird has cannot be quantified.

How did they communicate?

There is no evidence regarding the means of communication between these animals.

How big was a Jeholornis?

Jeholornis had a body length of 2.5-2.6 ft (75-85 cm).

How fast could a Jeholornis move?

These avian dinosaurs would not have been able to achieve a very high speed in flight as their shoulder blades were placed on the sides of their body. This would have enabled them to glide or parachute instead of using their wings for flapping flight. Their tail was also not meant to help them to fly but was only for display.

How much did a Jeholornis weigh?

The weight of these animals is thought to have been in the range of 5-20 lb (2.2-9.1 kg).

What were the male and female names of the species?

There were no sex-specific names for the males and females of this species.

What would you call a baby Jeholornis?

A baby Jeholornis would have been called a hatchling.

What did they eat?

Traces found in some well-preserved fossil specimens indicate that this bird used to feed on the seeds of cycads, Ginkgo plants, and other plants that would have been found during the Cretaceous in the Jiufotang Formation or the Jehol biome in China, where their fossils have been found.

How aggressive were they?

Due to a lack of research, it is unclear whether these birds would have been aggressive towards other animals.

Did you know...

While a specimen of J. prima had no teeth in its upper jaw and only three teeth in its lower jaw, a specimen of J. palmapenis only had a few teeth in the middle of its upper jaw. The teeth were small, peg-like, and had no serrations or denticles on them.

What species of Jeholornis are there?

There are three species of Jeholornis. The type species of this genus, Jeholornis prima, was named by Zhou and Zhang after the primitive features of the tail that were seen because of the good preservation of fossils in the Jehol group. The second species, J. palmapenis, was named and described by Jingmai O'Connor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for the frond-like structure of the tail features, and the term, palmapenis, translates to 'palm tail'. The third species, J, curvipes, was named by Ulysse Lefèvre. It means 'curved foot' and refers to the curved nature of the animal's metatarsus.

How is the Jeholornis related to birds?

Jeholornis is not directly related to birds. However, it does have many features that an ancestor of modern birds would have, such as the second feathered frond on the tail, which is seen in many living birds today. Although avian evolution is complex, it can be that this second tail frond would have been so advantageous to birds like Jeholornis that it would have led to modern birds having a tail frond as well.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly prehistoric animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these Mylodon facts and Simolestes facts for kids.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Jeholornis coloring pages.

Main image by Matt Martyniuk.

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