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Did all dinosaurs have feathers?
July 25, 2014 5:47 AM   Subscribe

A fossil found in Siberia shows that an early ornithiscian dinosaur had feathers.

Ornithiscians are the other branch of dinosaurs. All previous feather discoveries were theropods, from whom modern birds descended.

With members of both branches of the dinosaur family tree now shown to have had feathers, this suggests that the original ancestor of the dinosaur had them, which would imply that every dinosaur had at least a few.
posted by Chocolate Pickle (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love this news! Jurassic Park was always dated (non-colorful dinos, for one) but now it could be totally wrong. Ilook forward to new artfully feathered dinosaurs.
posted by agregoli at 6:34 AM on July 25


So does this mean that the Aztecs might have been way ahead of modern science with Quetzalcoatl? Like maybe prehistoric Mexico might have had at least one holdout species of feathered dino that survived the larger extinctions, which might have been observed by early Meso-Americans, who in turn mythologized it as a feathered-serpent god?

Admittedly IANAPaleontologist and it sounds like a crackpot notion, but it still makes way more sense than the Quetzalcoatl = Jesus theory.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:41 AM on July 25 [2 favorites]


It does indeed sound like a crackpot notion.
posted by agregoli at 6:46 AM on July 25 [5 favorites]


So does this mean that the Aztecs might have been way ahead of modern science with Quetzalcoatl? Like maybe prehistoric Mexico might have had at least one holdout species of feathered dino that survived the larger extinctions, which might have been observed by early Meso-Americans, who in turn mythologized it as a feathered-serpent god?

Someone needs to write a SF story about this, stat.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:46 AM on July 25 [5 favorites]


I think it means that the Aztecs were actually dinosaurs (except the ones that were were-jaguars), and we have misinterpreted those images for all these years!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:03 AM on July 25 [4 favorites]


More seriously, this is pretty cool. It's interesting how many different kinds of feathers there are and (did I read that correctly?) apparently some only existed in extinct species. I guess it's not surprising -- there are a ton of different types of hair/fur, so why not feathers?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:08 AM on July 25


So Jesus had feathers? That would explain a lot.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:11 AM on July 25 [3 favorites]


Like maybe prehistoric Mexico might have had at least one holdout species of feathered dino that survived the larger extinctions, which might have been observed by early Meso-Americans, who in turn mythologized it as a feathered-serpent god?

There were thousands of such species, though we normally refer to them as birds.

All the Meso-Ams needed to observe to be able to conceive Q were the birds and lizards around them. Just as the ancient Geeks didn't need to observe actual centaurs, minotaurs, chimeras, harpies, manticores, satyrs, gryphons, etc.

it sounds like a crackpot notion, but it still makes way more sense than the Quetzalcoatl = Jesus theory.

Someone needs to write a SF story about this, stat

How about Quetzalcoatl (Kukulkan) = Apollo?
    ST:TAS: How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth
 
posted by Herodios at 7:11 AM on July 25 [2 favorites]


I don't think we're allowed to say bad things about Jurassic Park.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:13 AM on July 25 [4 favorites]


So Jesus had feathers? That would explain a lot.

For one thing they held trapped air allowing him to walk on water.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:14 AM on July 25 [4 favorites]


"Just like elephants in Africa don't need fur,"

Eh.. Elephant hair helps them stay cool.

There's a lot of benefit to feathers besides flying so I buy into this completely. Makes the job of artists harder, painting feathers, since we don't know about size of feathers or colors or patterns.
posted by stbalbach at 7:14 AM on July 25


So Jesus had feathers? That would explain a lot.

For one thing they held trapped air allowing him to walk on water.


So, if Jesus is the same as a duck, then he is made of wood and therefore a witch.

BURN HIM!
posted by TedW at 7:21 AM on July 25 [4 favorites]


I don't think we're allowed to say bad things about Jurassic Park.

Hey, Spielberg could publish Jurassic Park: FEE (Feathered Enhanced Edition) and make us all buy the movie again.
posted by hat_eater at 7:26 AM on July 25 [7 favorites]


Of course they had feathers! Dinosaurs were just giant chickens. But Big Chicken doesn't want you to learn the truth about where those enormous fast food chicken breasts served in the US really come from.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:31 AM on July 25 [6 favorites]


Look at the plumage on that triceratops!
posted by graymouser at 7:35 AM on July 25


uh so, any chance of photos of these fossil feathers?
posted by rebent at 7:35 AM on July 25


Primitive feathers--that is, the structures that would become modified into flight feathers in some lineages--were more like fluff. Useful for keeping warm, of course, because not all dinosaurs lived in hot climates. They couldn't have had hair for that purpose because hair is a diagnostic feature of mammals, invented and trademarked by them. (Or maybe by therapsids, the mammal-like reptiles. As long as they're digging up fossils with visible skin details I hope somebody digs up a therapsid with both scales and some hair, which would settle the issue. And also be useful to the therapsids' legal team as proof of prior art.)

I think I like the idea of plushie dinosaurs even more that feathery ones.

N.b. Quetzalcoatl may have had feathers but it didn't use them to fly. Like any self-respecting god it flew by magic.
posted by jfuller at 7:39 AM on July 25 [6 favorites]


Of course they had feathers! Dinosaurs were just giant chickens.

Daniel Pinkwater should be involved in any future Jurassic Park remakes.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:48 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]


I heard the argument before and really, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with feathers looks so adorkable! If they ever genetically engineer them back to life, I get dibs on the first one! I want a dainty girl T. Rex with feathers -- it will make up for the pet gorilla I wanted as a kid but was denied, and thus my whole dreams of being a girl superhero with a simian sidekick were totally derailed...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:19 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]


Pictures of the fossils. The third and sixth pictures show the scaly skin around the foot and leg and are just as interesting in their own way. These are really amazing fossils.

But this isn't the only ornithischian with filaments. They've also been seen in Psittacosaurus and Tianyulong. And some pterosaurs were fuzzy too. Fluffiness could easily be the ancestral condition. It's either that or it evolved three or four different times.
posted by Akhu at 8:20 AM on July 25 [6 favorites]


"Dr Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum in London, has doubts.

"Most feathers have a branching structure," he told BBC News.

"Instead these look like little streamers coming from a central plate. No bird has that structure in any part of its plumage and none of the developmental models that biologists use to understand the evolution of feathers includes a stage that has anything like that kind of anatomy."" -- the BBC reports
posted by Marauding Ennui at 8:27 AM on July 25


Lately I have been loving watching dino-a-day, which blogs art of dinos, some of which have feathers!
posted by foxfirefey at 8:45 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]


I got curious about dino feathers a couple weeks ago and looked into whether Jurassic Park 4 would include feathered dinosaurs. Apparently even with all the evidence we have found since the previous films the answer is no.
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:59 AM on July 25


They didn't go extinct. They're just pining for the fjords.
posted by Mchelly at 9:06 AM on July 25


I like the final statement of the thesis in the original link: dinos may have had feathers, or feather-like structures, in the same way that mammals have hair.

And yes, dino fuzziness is a lovely concept. :)
posted by jrochest at 9:11 AM on July 25


The question of convergent evolution is interesting.

It's worth noting that the name of the ornithischian dinosaurs means "bird-like hips," and that they tended to have beaks instead of teeth, while birds are descended from the saurischians with "lizard-like hips" and teeth. The change in the hip shape and the transition from teeth to beaks both evolved at least twice.

I don't know enough about the biology to say whether it's also likely that feathers, or feather-like structures, could also have appeared multiple times, but this (very impressive) find is far from ironclad evidence that all dinosaurs were feathered in the way that all mammals are hairy.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:12 AM on July 25


Hair has evolved at least twice. There's no reason to believe that the Pterosaurs are related to mammals, but the evidence is strong that they had fur.

(Actually, three times. Bumblebees, anyone?)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:55 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]


prehistoric Mexico might have had at least one holdout species of feathered dino that survived the larger extinctions, which might have been observed by early Meso-Americans

Still doubtful that Mesoamericans ever saw an honest-to-doug-mcclure dinosaur, but we know for sure that the Maori of New Zealand saw dinornis (dinornii? dinornises? dinornim?). And if you'll bear with me, it's possible that some Mayan's or Aztec's ancestors may have seen the moa's ancestors (or cousins), though not as spectacularly as Quetzlcoatl.

One of the largest species of modern birds (modern in the taxonomic sense -- not a feathered dinosaur; feathers, beak, no teeth, hard-shelled eggs, high metabolic rate, four-chambered heart, lightweight skeleton) was Dinornis robustus, the South Island Giant Moa.

The similarity in the names dinosaur (terrible lizard) and dinornis (terrible bird) is apt. With some specimens standing over six feet tall at the back (nearly twelve feet tall to the top of the head) the giant moa was the tallest and one of the heaviest (over 500 pounds) bird species known.

There are many species of flightless birds in the world; the penguins of course use their wings to swim; the ratites (ostrich, emu, rhea, cassowary, kiwi) have rudimentary wings. But the nine species of moa are the most recent speceies to have had no wings at all -- not a trace of wing bones. *

Although there are many unconfirmed reports of moa sightings since Europeans came to New Zealand -- and it's not technically impossible that there are survivors -- it's generally accepted that all nine species of moa were gone by 1600 -- dinornis perhaps a hundred years earlier -- hunted to extinction by the Maori (and the dogs, pigs, and rats they introduced to Aotearoa), who had only arrived as late as 1300. The extinction of the giant moa apparently also doomed the Haasts Eagle, the largest raptor ever; it's main food is thought to have been giant moa.

Cook (1770) missed 'em; Tasman (1642) missed 'em; Humboldt, Linnaeus, and Bauhin never heard of them. Darwin visited New Zealand in 1835, but was unimpressed by the species he saw there, particularly the primates; he wrote in his journal that he was glad to get away.

More recently, DNA studies suggest that the moa were more closely related to the partridge-like (and flight-enabled) tinamou of South America than to the New Zealand kiwi or any of the worlds ratites. Current thinking is that the ancestors of the moa flew to New Zealand from South America, suggesting that flightlessness evolved in previously flight-enabled bird species independently many times.

Giantism, too. See also the elephant bird of Madagascar. It's possible that Marco Polo saw one. They went extinct about the same time as the dodo and for about the same reasons. Oh, and it seems that they were more closely related to the kiwi than the moa were.

To recap: the ancestors of the 800 pound flightless elephant bird probably flew to Madagascar from Oceania. The ancestors of the 500 pound wingless giant moa probably flew to New Zealand from South America by way of Antarctica. Both looked about as much like a dinosaur as any bird a homo sapiens ever saw, and modern science missed 'em by only a few centuries. Quetzlcoatl was probably made up and it's pretty unlikely any actual dinosaurs survived 65 million years to be seen sharpening razor blades inside the Aztec's pyramids.

---------------------
*"Hi there, I am an apteryx, a wingless bird with hairy feather."
posted by Herodios at 10:01 AM on July 25 [18 favorites]


Now I'm picturing the velociprator in the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park, except now the velociprators have feathers.

Somehow, it's more terrifying this way.
posted by inertia at 10:19 AM on July 25


Whoa. Who knew there were birds that towered over people still living among us just a few centuries ago. Great comment, Herodios!
posted by saulgoodman at 10:29 AM on July 25


I am enjoying my mental picture of dinosaurs having hot pink feathers and green spotted fur like ancient drag queens
posted by The Whelk at 11:06 AM on July 25


The Jurrasic Park dinosaurs were featherless because of the amphibian DNA that was grafted in. Obviously.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:19 AM on July 25


No, they were featherless and nearly colorless because Spielburg prioritizes his fantasies over science.
posted by agregoli at 11:23 AM on July 25


No, they were featherless because we've had two decades of scientific discoveries since the art direction decisions for Jurassic Park were made. In 1993 the state of the art was still "Archeopteryx was the dinosaur with feathers."

I don't remember them being colorless. Apart from the displays, like the guy with the neck fins, they were drab-colored, greens and greys. But so are sparrows, wrens, mockingbirds, thrashers; the females and young of cardinals and finches (even goldfinches); the (nonpoisonous) frogs and snakes around my house; deer, elk, and moose; coyotes, wolves, and cougars. Wild animals tend to be drab-colored. The ones that aren't are surprising, so we put them in zoos.

I remember around the time the movie came out reading a newspaper article with a title like "Spielberg's film anticipates scientific discovery." Apparently Spielberg decided that the six-foot-long velociraptors known in 1991 wouldn't be as scary as nine-foot-long velociraptors, so he made his bigger. Around the time the film came out some nine-foot-long velociraptor fossils turned up. A visionary!, said the newspaper (perhaps tongue in cheek, but who really knows).
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:00 PM on July 25


Next question: Did they have preen glands, or did they always look permanently disheveled like the ratites (emus, rheas, ostriches, cassowaries, kiwis, elephant birds)?
posted by aubilenon at 3:49 PM on July 25


foxfirefay: Lately I have been loving watching dino-a-day, which blogs art of dinos, some of which have feathers!

This link should not get lost in the discussion. Everyone go there now. I am down a rabbit hole (cynodont hole?).
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 8:16 PM on July 26


cloaca
posted by The Whelk at 9:42 PM on July 26


No, they were featherless because we've had two decades of scientific discoveries since the art direction decisions for Jurassic Park were made. In 1993 the state of the art was still "Archeopteryx was the dinosaur with feathers."

In 1993, the state of the art was more like "Archeopteryx was probably a dinosaur with feathers. Probably."

Around the time the film came out some nine-foot-long velociraptor fossils turned up. A visionary!, said the newspaper (perhaps tongue in cheek, but who really knows).

Utahraptor, actually. Or Utahraptor spielbergi, as it was originally going to be called.
posted by gregoryg at 9:15 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


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