June 15th, 2016
Ever since the discovery of the first-ever feathered dinosaur, named Archaeopteryx (Greek for ‘ancient feather’), in 1861, palaeontologists have – especially recently – come across more and more fossil dinosaurs showing that feathers on dinosaurs were more common than initially thought.
Archaeopteryx’s claim to fame is that of the first true bird in the fossil record. It was the first dinosaur known to be able to fly, and it lived during the Jurassic, roughly 150 million years ago. It also helps to link birds to the dinosaur line itself, more specifically to a family of dinosaurs called Theropods (Greek for ‘beast-like foot’, due to their feet looking like the feet of predators).
It begins in 1999, from China, with the discovery of Sinornithosaurus , a member of the Dromaeosaur line of theropod dinosaurs – better known to most people as Raptors (after Velociraptor).
Since then, a bunch of other, new, raptor fossils have popped up also showing evidence of having borne feathers. Most notably Microraptor and Velociraptor. Though not all raptor species have been proven to have worn a coat of feathers, many of the raptors found so far that were originally thought to be without feathers have now been shown otherwise. Thus, it is now speculated by palaeontologists that the entire raptor line could have been feathered, including the big-and-bad Utahraptor .
But wait, it gets even fluffier…
While it’s still not proven yet whether Troodon itself possessed feathers, it is in the same line as Anchiornis, and so some palaeontologists also depict Troodon with feathers.
Now for the grand finale:
Two other dinosaur fossils were found in China that belonged to a rather infamous line of theropods.
Think about that for a moment: T-rex, with feathers.
No need for T-rex to worry yet, as no such feathery evidence has thus far been found. However, as with the raptor and troodon lines, the tyrannosaur line is populated with feathered, Jurassic ancestors to the more well-known, Cretaceous descendants. Palaeontologists, nonetheless, now think that it was likely that Tyrannosaurus young were feathered, with those feathers being lost as they grew into adulthood.
No need for dinosaurs in general to worry yet, either, as all the current feathered finds are of theropods only. I’m sure some people can rest easier on that fact.
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Illustration: Pietro Antognioni