More Dinosaurs with Feathers?

The popular image of dinosaurs – gray, dull, and scaly – has remained unchanged for decades. But new evidence over the last few years suggests a completely different picture. Did dinosaur feathers really exist?

Dinosaur Feathers – Did they Exist?

Well, yes, it appears at least some dinosaurs were covered with colorful feathers. First, there was the Dilong paradoxus. Then there were those 11 dinosaurs feathers found in western Canada. Now, scholars claim that Yutyrannus huali, a distant predecessor to Tyrannosaurus Rex, sported a full set of feathers as well. Here’s more on dinosaur feathers from Wired:

It’s not your father’s tyrannosaur: Yutyrannus huali, a newly discovered ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex, was covered from head to tail in downy feathers. At 30 feet long and weighing 3,000 pounds, Y. huali wasn’t so large as T. rex, which came 60 million years later, but it’s the largest feathered tyrannosaur yet found…

The discovery provides “direct evidence for the presence of extensively feathered gigantic dinosaurs,” wrote paleontologists led by Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in their description of the new dinosaur, published April 5 in Nature. ‘Instead of giant lizards, they were basically weird birds.’

(See Wired for more on dinosaur feathers)

Dinosaurs…with Feathers?

In popular media, dinosaurs are often portrayed as large, lumbering creatures with leathery, drab, gray skin. But a shocking new find suggests that this might be incorrect. Were dinosaurs really covered in…fluffy, colorful feathers?

Did Dinosaurs have Feathers?

It’s a story seemingly ripped from the pages of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. While working in western Canada, a team of scientists led by Ryan McKellar discovered strange remnants encased in amber. Out of some 4,000 samples, he pulled eleven dinosaur feathers which range from 70 to 90 million years old and “include simple filament structures similar to the earliest feathers of non-flying dinosaurs — a form unknown in modern birds — and more complicated bird feathers ‘displaying pigmentation and adaptations for flight and diving.'”

“Now, instead of scaly animals portrayed as usually drab creatures, we have solid evidence for a fluffy colored past.” ~ Dr. Mark A. Norell, American Museum of Natural History, New York

Good lord. So, what kind of colors are we talking about here? Red? Blue? Dare I say pink? No, nothing like that. It turns out the feathers contain certain trace metals, which suggest that they were once colored black, brown, and a reddish-brown.

As for which dinosaurs sported these feathers, well, we don’t know for certain and there’s a good chance that they came from an as-yet-to-be-identified species. However, we do know that they lived toward the end of the Cretaceous Period. At that particular moment in time, “the forerunners of birds were well on their way to taking wing.” But that doesn’t mean these recently discovered feathers were used for flight. Most likely, they were used for thermal regulation instead.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

As with all new discoveries, it’s important to take these findings with a grain of salt. Eleven feathers, after all, can only tell us so much. Still, the discovery indicates that creatures with primitive feather structures may have been living in the same era as creatures with more advanced structures. If true, this would change the way scientists currently view feather evolution.

Also, over the past few years scientists have gathered an increasingly large body of evidence indicating that feathers were “a fundamental and widespread characteristic” among certain types of dinosaurs. Although fossil feather research is still in its infancy, future advancements may allow us to determine the exact pigments of these feathers. When that happens, the dull gray dinosaurs of our imagination might just give way to a brand new world of magnificently colored beasts.