Fossils Found in Siberia Suggest All Dinosaurs had Feathers

First Posted: Jul 25, 2014 07:43 AM EDT

Researchers have unearthed what may be the first example of plant-eating dinosaur with feathers and scales, indicating that all dinosaurs had feathers.

Till date, it was widely believed that only the flesh-eating dinosaurs had feathers. But, the new finding challenges this as a plant-eating dinosaur dubbed "Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus" was discovered in Russia. This discovery suggests that feather-like structures were widespread in dinosaurs, possible even the earliest members of the group.

The new dinosaur was unearthed from a site called Kulinda, on the banks of the Olov River in Siberia. The new dinosaur carries epidermal scales on its tails and shins and even short bristles on its head and back. The finding is surprising as the dinosaur had complex and compound feathers associated with its arms and legs. The feathers were very well preserved and this helped researchers to view each filament. They were joined at the base, making a compound structure of six or seven filament each measuring 15mm long.

Lead author Dr. Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural History in Brussels said: "I was really amazed when I saw this.  We knew that some of the plant-eating ornithischian dinosaurs had simple bristles, and we couldn't be sure whether these were the same kinds of structures as bird and theropod feathers.  Our new find clinches it: all dinosaurs had feathers, or at least the potential to sprout feathers."

Birds evolved from dinosaurs some 150 million years ago, hence it was not astonishing to see dinosaurs with feathers unearthed from China in 1996. But, those feathered dinosaurs were theropods, flesh-eating dinosaurs that include the direct ancestors of birds.

The Kulinda site was found in 2010 by Professor Dr Sofia Sinitsa from the Institute of Natural Resource, Ecology and Cryology SB RAS in Chita, Russia.

Professor Danielle Dhouailly said: "Developmental experiments in modern chickens suggest that avian scales are aborted feathers, an idea that explains why birds have scaly legs.  The astonishing discovery is that the molecular mechanisms needed for this switch might have been so clearly related to the appearance of the first feathers in the earliest dinosaurs."

Researchers describe Kulindadromeus as a small plant eater with long hind legs and short arms and five strong fingers. It measured just 1m long. It has a short snout and its teeth reveal an adaption to plant eating. In evolutionary terms, it sits at the bottom of the evolutionary tree of ornithischian dinosaurs. At the Kulinda locality, the researchers found six skulls and several hundred parts of skeleton that belonged to the new dinosaur.

The finding was published in Science. 

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