This dinosaur was much fuzzier than scientists once thought
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Modern-day birds sport a coat of feathers. But it turns out that their ancient relatives were surprisingly fluffy.
Researchers have discovered that the ancient feathers are much “shaggier.” This is compared to their modern bird relatives. This is according to a new study. It was published in the journal Paleontology. The researchers are from the University of Bristol. It is in the United Kingdom. They compared the well-preserved fossilized feathers the dinosaur Anchiornis to those of other dinosaurs and extinct birds. The Anchiornis was bird-like. It was crow-sized.
Anchiornis is an early member of the paraves. It is a group that includes true birds. It also includes feathered dinosaurs. That's according to the university press release. Anchiornis was originally thought to be a bird. It has long fascinated and puzzled researchers. That’s due to both its similarities and many differences to modern birds. That's according to Jason Bittel. He reported for National Geographic earlier this year.
Researchers found that the feathers covering Anchiornis’ body had short quills. It had long, independent, flexible barbs sticking out at low angles in two opposing blades. This organization results in an overall forked shape for each feather. It likely produced a surprisingly fluffy and soft texture.
The feathers of today’s birds are “tightly zipped.” That's according to the press release. This means that the fluffy ancient creatures likely had a more difficult time repelling water. The ancient feathers also appear less aerodynamic. This would have made Anchiornis a less-nimble flyer. But the downy layer likely kept the creatures warm.
The four-winged Anchiornis also sported elongated feathers. They were arranged in a fringe. It went across the backs of their limbs and tail. This is an arrangement the researchers believe would make the creatures more effective gliders than fliers.
“Overall, it does suggest that truly modern feathers and wings could have evolved later in time. Or, they could have evolved in extinct bird lineages. Those lineages are more closely related to modern birds than we might have expected.” That's what Evan Saitta said. He is a paleontologist. He works at the University of Bristol. He is also author of the new study. That's according to Dan Robitzski of Live Science.
The latest study is helping scientists tease through the details of the physiology of early birds. It also explains their behavior. “It’s really exciting to be able to work with the scientists at the forefront of these discoveries. And it's exciting to show others what we believe these fluffy, toothy almost-birds looked like.” That's according to Evan Saitta.
The team collaborated with Rebecca Gelernte. She is a a scientific illustrator. She is also a graphic designer. She helped the team further visualize the ancient beasts. She helped them to create a life-like image of the animal. Anchiornis’ color patterns were derived from previous fossilized pigment studies. Other previous studies have depicted its wing feathers’ multi-tiered layering. That's according to the university press release. In this case, the creature’s flesh has been recreated. This was done by looking closely at the fossil beneath laser fluorescence.
"It is now possible to [visualize Anchiornis to] an unprecedented degree. That's as a result of this study and other recent work.” That's what Saitta said in the release. “It’s easy to see it as a living animal with complex behaviors, not just a flattened fossil.”
This latest study adds to the mounting evidence that many ancient dinosaurs sported coats of feathers. The Velociraptor is an example. It was a fleet-footed dinosaur. It was depicted as a sleek lizard in the film Jurassic Park. But it actually had feathers. That's according to a 2007 study of one of the creature’s forearms.
The latest find continues to work against the Jurassic Park vision of dinos. It deepens our understanding about how these creatures looked. And how they functioned.