Feathers More Common Among Dinosaurs Than Previously Thought

By Gemma Tarlach | July 24, 2014 12:59 pm
Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus wanders the swampy lowlands of Jurassic Siberia in this artist's rendering. Image courtesy Andrey Atuchin.

New dinosaur Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus wanders the lake-dotted lowlands of Jurassic Siberia in this artist’s rendering. Image courtesy Andrey Atuchin.

A new dinosaur is ruffling a few feathers in the ongoing debate over when and why dinosaurs evolved plumage — and which dinosaurs were rocking the feathered look.

Feathers have been associated with several dinosaurs directly ancestral to birds. Additional studies have determined that some non-avian theropod dinosaurs — not directly ancestral to birds but still closely related — also had various types of plumage. Based on an older dinosaur not related to birds that was recently unearthed in Siberia, however, researchers believe many more dinosaurs — possibly all or most of them — had feathers. The newly described Siberian dinosaur, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, also helps paleontologists understand why feathers evolved at all.

Researchers described K. zabaikalicus for the first time today in Science based on hundreds of fossils, including six partial skulls, from two sites in Russia. The animal belongs to the Ornithischian order of dinosaurs and is several branches away from birds on the Dinosauria family tree. Fossil finds dated from the Middle to Late Jurassic, roughly 176-145 million years ago.

So many bones... K. zabaikalicus fossils from southeastern Siberia awaiting classification at the excavation site in July 2013. Photo credit: T. Hubin/RBINS

So many bones… K. zabaikalicus fossils from southeastern Siberia awaiting classification at one of two excavation sites in July 2013. The sites yielded hundreds of skeletons and six partial skulls of the bipedal Jurassic herbivore, which had both scales and feathers. Photo credit: T. Hubin/RBINS

K. zabaikalicus had both scales and feathers. Thanks to the excellent preservation of several of the fossils, researchers believe the dinosaur had several different types of scales and feathers that varied in size, location and complexity. The distribution and shape of the feather structures in particular suggest that K. zabaikalicus used its feathers as a means of insulation and possibly for signaling to other members of its species, such as potential mates. This find supports a growing amount of research that points to feathers evolving first to keep the animals warm and for display. Only much later in the fossil record did feathers play a role in flight.

Based on plant, insect and crustacean fossils found alongside the dinosaur, researchers believe it lived in a lakeside environment. The bipedal dinosaur was about 1.5 meters long and ate plants.

A handful of other Ornithischian dinosaur fossils have had evidence of quill and filament-like structures likened to proto-feathers, but many paleontologists had contended that only theropods had true feathers. Researchers behind today’s K. zabaikalicus paper, however, say the Siberian dinosaur is evidence that feathers were likely widespread throughout Dinosauria.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs, paleontology
  • michaeljashley

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  • Ralph Warth

    Count me in

  • FeatheredFiend

    I know the world was much warmer back then, but Russia was still likely to have been cooler compared to other places. It’s possible it just had feathers to keep warm, and some dinosaurs in other places didn’t. It’s a cool find, and also the reconstruction is cute, but it doesn’t necessarily mean all dinosaurs had feathers.

    • SixSixSix

      Actually the current Russian landmass was no where near where it is today. You would have track continental drift, collision and separation back to determine where it was at that time. Time changes, continents move.

  • Nedward Marbletoe

    five feet tall, walks upright, with feathers. nice!

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  • Brian Allan

    It would be an interesting place/time to visit…

    • Foxhanger

      Yeah, if you’d like to be eaten……

  • Wade Carmen

    I cannot imagine the sauropods, duckbills, and armored dinosaurs with feathers.

  • michael scott

    Dinosaurs and feathers didn’t evolve. There is a ton of true scientific evidence that GOD created the universe and everything in it. The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has a great website with tons of true science articles that help people to see the truth about the earth, life on earth, space, etc. They also have a great monthly magazine called Acts and Facts that has wonderful science articles in it. The magazine is free, and anyone can receive every month in the mail if they order it. They also will send you emails of science articles regularly as well! I know that not everyone will agree with what I’ve said above, but people who are truly honest with themselves, when they read ICR’S science articles, they’ll realize that what is said in them is true and makes sense, even if they don’t agree with single detail concerning every remark that’s written in the articles. I don’t agree with every single detail or remark, but that doesn’t change the truth, and their articles speak the truth.

    • Foxhanger

      What you are talking about is creationism, and it has no place in science. Also, no where in the Bible does it say, God created the Heavens and the Earth AND DINOSAURS! Dinosaurs pre-date humans. If you creationists want to completely ignore the fossil record, you will never come up with a “scientific” explanation for how God created the earth in 7 days. Let’s face it, creationists interpret the Bible literally. That will NEVER allow for ANY rational scientific explanation of dinosaurs, humans, or anything else!

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