Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Biggest feathered animal ever?

This morning, I was busily writing up my response to Senter's paper, when I saw the latest Nature has an article on the latest feathered dinosaur discovery. Ironic ain't it?

This new dino, Yutyrannus huali, is a giant tyrannosauroid (maybe one ton in life). The fossils are pretty exciting too, since there are three individuals, which gives opportunity to look at individual variation. The "feathers" are of the filamentous variety rather than the fancy sort that birds have. Yutyrannus is a pretty "big" deal (get it?), since it's 40 times as big as the previous largest-known feathered dinosaur. For smaller dinos, especially like Microraptor, feathers could function in some sort of aerodynamic capacity for gliding, but that's really not possible for a one-ton monster. The authors of the study on Yutyrannus suggest that the feathers could either be a kind of hold over from earlier stages of evolution or might actually represent a cold climate adaptation (they have an insulation function like mammalian hair).

So it's a really interesting fossil, and it adds to the already overwhelming evidence that feathers are not unique to birds.

Xu et al. 2012. A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Nature 484:92-95.

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