Were Dinosaurs Feathered?

For a long time, scientists have been researching whether or not dinosaurs were feathered. Getting evidence of feathered dinosaurs is nearly impossible. Because feathers are of keratin. They tend to break down before it becomes a fossil. But, still, some facts show the existence of feathered dinosaurs.

The feathered dinosaurs exist much longer before the unfeathered dinosaurs. However, Paleontologists are still trying to figure out exactly what kinds of dinosaurs feathered. And what they looked like.

What did experts say?

Many experts in animal anatomy noticed the similarity between dinosaurs and birds. Therefore, Thomas Henry who was one of the earliest supporters of evolution theory raise a point; He said that the dinosaur Compsognathus looked a lot like Archaeopteryx. It was the first to be considered a bird-like dinosaur. Thomas Henry compared the anatomy of Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx. He concluded that apart from hands and feathers the rest of the structure is similar. According to him, birds evolved from dinosaurs. 1 2

Buitreraptor (with feathers)

Discoveries

The First Fossil Impressions

The first-ever and oldest discovery are of ichnofossil. It was about 199 million years old approximately. This fossil gave an impression of feathers by non-flying dinosaurs. The fossil was an impression of feathers from a belly of dilophosaurid.

Another evidence is found in Liaoning, China. Many volcanic eruptions occurred in this area during Early Cretaceous. Thus the fossils are in high detail. The fossil found here shows the biological relationship between birds and dinosaurs. 3

Bird-Like Behaviour

Oviraptor behavior was studied as it was sitting on its nest on the eggs. Therefore, this behavior is quite similar to that of birds. It is also important evidence to show birds and dinosaurs’ relationships. As it sits on nest then it must have feathers to insulate eggs. Moreover, its sitting posture is like birds. 4

Dinosaur Feathers in Amber

A discovery was made in 2011 in which feathers preserved in amber were found. These feathers were of dinosaurs and birds as well. The specimen is about 80 million years old from the Cretaceous era. The analysis showed these feathers were for insulation purposes not for flying. 5

Yutyrannus

A skeleton fossil of Yutyrannus was found in Liaoning, China, 2012. It was the largest feathered dinosaur discovered. This fossil revealed much about feathered dinosaurs. 6

Dinosaur Tail in Amber

In 2016 a tail of a dinosaur embedded in amber added to the pieces of evidence that dinosaurs feathered to some extent. It is about 99 million years old. A researcher, Lida Xing from China University found the preserved tail at an amber market.7

Archaeopteryx

Moreover, in 2018 a report by scientists reveals that Archaeopteryx was capable of flying. But their flight was different from present-day birds. 8

Conclusion

Feathers first appeared as straight hair-like structures made of keratin. Which then slowly evolved into branched form. However, this later developed vanes. Then finally the feather that today’s birds possess for flight. Looking upon the evidence we can conclude that dinosaur may possess feathers.

Not necessarily for flying but to keep their body warmth intact. Most of them lay eggs like birds do and keep them safe with their warmth.


Image credits: Mosaic evolution in an asymmetrically feathered troodontid dinosaur with transitional features, Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14972 (Xing Xu, Philip Currie, Michael Pittman, Lida Xing, Qingjin Meng, Junchang Lü, Dongyu Hu & Congyu Yu), Wikimedia Commons (Conty).

  1. https://www.britannica.com/animal/feathered-dinosaur
  2. Huxley, T.H. (1868). “On the animals which are most nearly intermediate between birds and reptiles”. Annals and Magazine of Natural History. 4th. 2: 66–75
  3. Turner, A. H.; Makovicky, P. J.; Norell, M. A. (21 September 2007). “Feather Quill Knobs in the Dinosaur Velociraptor”. Science. 317 (5845): 1721.
  4. Norell M.A., Clark J.M., Chiappe L.M., Dashzeveg D.; Clark; Chiappe; Dashzeveg (1995). “A nesting dinosaur”. Nature. 378 (6559): 774–776.
  5. Emily Chung (12 September 2011). “Dinosaur feathers found in Alberta amber”. CBC.
  6. “Scientists Discover a Gigantic Tyrannosaur”
  7. Romey, Kristin (8 December 2016). “First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber”. National Geographic Society.
  8. Guarino, Ben (13 March 2018). “This feathery dinosaur probably flew, but not like any bird you know”. The Washington Post.