‘Fluffy and feathery’ dinosaurs were widespread
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News
All dinosaurs were covered with feathers or had the potential to grow feathers, a study suggests.
The discovery of 150-million-year-old fossils in Siberia indicates that feathers were much more widespread among dinosaurs than previously thought.
The find “has completely changed our vision of dinosaurs”, the lead researcher told BBC News.
The details have been published in the journal Science.
The creature, called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, was about 1m long, with a short snout, long hind legs, short arms, and five strong fingers.
Its teeth show clear adaptations for chewing plants.
Until now, fossilised evidence of feathery dinosaurs has come from China and from a meat eating group called theropods.
The latest discovery, in Russia, is from a completely separate group of plant-eating dinosaurs called ornithischians – which account for half of all dinosaurs.
The find takes the origin of feathers millions of years further back in time than had previously been thought, said Dr Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, Belgium, who led the research.
“It was a big surprise,” he said.
“The fact that feathers have now been discovered in two distinct groups, theropods in China and ornithischians in Russia means that the common ancestor of these species which might have existed 220 million years ago also probably had feathers.”
The discovery has “completely changed our vision of dinosaurs”, he added.
“Instead of thinking of dinosaurs as dry, scary scaly creatures a lot of them actually had a fluffy, downy covering like feathers on a chick,” said co-researcher Dr Maria McNamara of Cork University in Ireland.
So do all the pictures of dinosaurs in children’s books need to be redrawn to make creatures like Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex and the vicious Velociraptor, fluffier and cuter?
Perhaps a little bit, according to Professor Mike Benton, of Bristol University, who was also involved in the work.
“Our research doesn’t mean that all dinosaurs had feathers, especially as adults,” he told BBC News.
“Some will have had feathers as young animals and kept them throughout their lives. Others may have lost feathers as they grew up, and became large enough not to need them, or replaced feathers with scales or relied on bony plates in the skin for protection.”
The key point is that dinosaurs were all initially feathered and warm blooded, confirmation of an idea that has prevailed for years, he said.
“Feathers were used first for insulation and signalling; they only later became adapted for flight.”
But Dr Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum in London, has doubts.
“Most feathers have a branching structure,” he told BBC News.
“Instead these look like little streamers coming from a central plate. No bird has that structure in any part of its plumage and none of the developmental models that biologists use to understand the evolution of feathers includes a stage that has anything like that kind of anatomy.”
Did you know that Australian once had a marsupial lion?
By Mike Searle, Before It’s Too Late
An amazing and unique discovery has been made in Australia. In a massive cave below the Nullabor Plane the Western Australian Museum discovery the first fully intact skeleton of the Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo Carnifax).
Australia is known for its cute marsupials, the koala, the kangaroo and the wombat among others. Very few people are aware that there was once a marsupial that was a deadly “creep up and get ya” predator that was more ferocious than a sabre tooth tiger. It was Thylacoleo Carnifex – the Marsupial Lion Australia’s lost predator.
The Nullarbor Plain is a remote treeless desert resting between the Great Australian Bight and the Great Sandy Desert. It is hard, stony country…flat and featureless.
In May of 2002 an group of cavers, in an Indiana Jones style operation, discovered three caves, which had never been entered by man. The entrance to one of the caves was mere shoulder-width, vertical tube that rapidly expanded to cathedral proportions. In the first cave their head torches illuminated a sight that caused scientific wonderment and a world-wide media frenzy.
At the far end of a side tunnel the cavers discovered the pristine and complete skeleton of the fabled marsupial lion, Thylacoleo. It lay there as if it had died only a year ago. The skeleton was bleach white against the red earth and not a speck of dust on it. Their immediate reaction was to take a photo and get out – their main concern was to preserve the site for scientific analysis.
The photo of Thylacoleo and the cave coordinates ended up on the desk of Dr John Long, vertebrate palaeontologist a world renowned Bone Digger with the Western Australian Museum. Within a matter of weeks funding and an expedition to recover the remains had been arranged. It would prove a journey full of surprises both during the expedition and later as the remains were studied. The first surprise to take John and his team by surprise was the age of the remains. He was sure the skeleton could only be about 40,000 years old – several dating techniques later and a shattering date of at least 500,000 years suddenly propelled the find into mega-star status.
Bone Diggers – Mystery of a Lost Predator is the amazing story of the dangerous recovery mission and how the remains of the marsupial lion allowed science a unique opportunity to reconstruct the beast and it’s behaviour.
From recreating its brain to morphological analysis, the life and form of Thylacoleo began to take shape – this is science at its best!