The terrible T. rex gets feathers

Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Featured, Great Big World | 0 comments

This artist concept provided by the Beijing Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology shows Y. huali and other smaller dinosaurs roaming 125 million years ago. (AP Photo/Beijing Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Brian Choo)

The discovery of a giant meat-eating dinosaur sporting a downy coat has some scientists changing the look of Tyrannosaurus rex.

With a killer jaw and sharp claws, T. rex is usually shown in movies and popular culture as having scaly skin. But the discovery of a T. rex relative suggests the king of dinosaurs may have had a softer side.

The evidence comes from a newfound tyrannosaur species in northeastern China that lived 60 million years before T. rex. The fossil record preserved remains of fluffy down, making it the largest feathered dinosaur ever found.

If a T. rex relative had feathers, why not T. rex? Scientists said the evidence is trending in that direction.

“People need to start changing their image of T. rex,” said Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who was not part of the discovery team.

Early finds:
Much smaller dinosaurs with primitive feathers have been excavated in recent years, but this is the first direct sign of a huge, shaggy dinosaur. Scientists have long debated whether gigantic dinosaurs lost their feathers the bigger they got or were just not as extensively covered.

The new tyrannosaur species, Yutyrannus huali, is described in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature. Its name is a blend of Latin and Mandarin, which translates to “beautiful feathered tyrant.”

The new species of tyrannosaur, Y. huali, probably had feathers or a feathery down which it could have used to stay warm or as camoflauge. (AP Photo/Beijing Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Brian Choo)

A team of Chinese and Canadian scientists analyzed three well-preserved fossil skeletons—an adult and two juveniles—recovered from a quarry in China’s Liaoning province by a private fossil dealer. Most striking were the remains of down-like feathers on the neck and arm. Though coverage was patchy, scientists suspected the species had feathers over much of its body.

It would have felt like touching “long, thick fur,” co-author Corwin Sullivan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said. Another scientist, Thomas Holtz Jr. at the University of Maryland, compared it to the feathers of an emu.

The creature lived about 125 million years ago. At 30 feet long and weighing a ton, Y. huali would have reached T. rex’s chest.

The dino-fuzz probably kept it warm, though camouflage or showing it off like a peacock could not be ruled out.

Since T. rex is related to this newfound feathery species, chances are good that T. rex was feathered as well, scientists said. Just don’t mistake fuzzy for cuddly. The predatory dinosaur would have been just as menacing.

Having feathers “doesn’t make it less threatening or less fearsome,” said Holtz, who had no role in the research.

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Online:

Journal: http://www.nature.com/nature

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Reported by Alicia Chang of the Associated Press from LOS ANGELES, Calif. Follow her coverage at http://www.twitter.com/SciWriAlicia

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