A feathered dinosaur unearthed in a Chinese quarry has added another solid piece of evidence to the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs. The newly uncovered fossil of the species Anchiornis huxleyi dates from the Late Jurassic period, 151-161 million years ago, and therefore predates the earliest known bird, the Archaeopteryx. Paleontologists say this represents the final proof that dinosaurs were ancestral to birds. “Drawing the tree of life, it’s fairly obvious that feathers arose before Archaeopteryx appears in the fossil record” [BBC News], says paleontologist Michael Benton.
The creature, described in a paper [pdf] in Nature, was covered in the short feathers known as “dino-fuzz,” and had longer feathers on both its forelimbs and its back legs that formed primitive wings. The four-winged dinosaurs also had feathers on their feet and wing-like attachments on the arms and legs. But they could probably only glide, as their plumage was insufficient for powered flight [Nature News].
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Image: Zhao Chuang, Xing Lida. An artist’s rendering of Anchiornis huxleyi.