Feathers grew differently on dinosaurs and birds

21 Janvier, 2020, 12:20 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Wulong Skeleton

Wulong, Chinese for "dancing dragon", was named after the ingenious pose of the fossil conserved in an impressive way. The thing is that the bones and feathers revealed this newly unearthed dino to be a juvenile who went through different growing pains than birds. These feathered lizards that ran around during the Early Cretaceous were probably hard to catch and also related to birds, even though they weren't birds themselves. Poust is now postdoctoral researcher at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

She continued and explained that "Studying specimens like this not only shows us the sometimes surprising paths that ancient life has taken, but also allows us to test ideas about how important bird characteristics, including flight, arose in the distant past".

An artist rendering of what Wulong bohaiensis might have looked like.

This is a unique specimen that seems to offer a window into how our planet was about 120 million years ago. The skeletal bones were analyzed by Poust alongside his advisor, Dr. David Varricchio, from Montana State University while Poust was a student there. Its long arms and legs each had sets of feathers that looked similar to those on bird wings, while most of the rest of its body was covered by fluffy filaments.

Birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs roughly 150 million years ago. Wulong's closest identified relative would were Microraptor, a puny, four-winged dinosaur.

The fossil get marks no longer flawless the discovery of a fresh dinosaur species nonetheless it also exhibits links between dinosaurs and birds, per the museum. This technique, called bone histology, is becoming a regular part of the paleontology toolbox, but it's still sometimes hard to convince museums to let a researcher remove part of a nice skeleton.

The fossil was initially discovered in the fossil-filled Jehol Province a decade ago by a farmer and was placed in China's Dalian Natural History Museum.

The fossil of the dinosaur indicated the dinosaur had been just about a year old.

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"The presence of such elaborate structures in the similarly sized, relatively somatically immature Wulong demonstrates that non-avian dinosaurs had a very different strategy of plumage development than their living relatives", the authors write. Showy feathers, especially those used for mating, are particularly delayed.

The fossil of the new dinosaur is next to a linear drawing of the skeleton and a close-up of the tail feathers.

"Either young dinosaurs needed these tail feathers for a function we don't know, or they grew their feathers very differently from most living birds", said Poust.

To work out the details, the team compared the remains to samples of a dinosaur from the Sinornithosaurus genus.

"We're talking about animals that lived twice as long as T. rex, so it's pretty awesome how well they are preserved", said Poust. "It's really very exciting to see inside these animals for the first time". The dinosaur is from the early Cretaceous period and was discovered in one of the richest fossil deposits in the world, the Jehol biota. The Jehol biota is known for the incredible variety of animals that were alive at the time.

Researchers learned that birds, pterosaurs and bird-like dinosaurs all lived in the environment at the same time.

"There was a lot of flight, gliding and fluttering around these ancient lakes", said Poust. "As we continue to mediate about more about the fluctuate of these puny animals it becomes attention-grabbing how all of them might presumably perhaps contain match into the ecosystem ..." It was also at this time that the flowering plants started to flower. "It used to be an alien world, but with about a of the earliest feathers and earliest plant life, it might well probably presumably perhaps were a lovely one".

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