All Dinosaurs Looked More Like Big Bird Than Big Lizards, New Study Suggests

A new study suggests that all dinosaurs sported fluffy chick-type feathers.

The first evidence of dinosaurs sporting feathers was found in China in 1996. Since then quite a few other bits of evidence supporting the assessment have been found.

So, where it’s true that evidence of feathers on dinosaurs existed, it in no way suggested that all dinosaurs shared the characteristic.

A new find might change that perception.

According to the journal, Science, a new dinosaur species was discovered in Russia.

Referred to as Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, the dinosaur was five feet long. It sported a short snout, long hind legs, short arms with five strong fingers and dental cues that indicate it was an herbivore. Of course, the new dinosaur also had feathers.

Originally, feathers seemed to only be found on theropods, a suborder of dinosaurs that includes the Tyrannosaurus rex. The newly unearthed dinosaur belongs to the Ornithischia group.

The two dinosaur groups split about 220 million years ago.

“For the first time, we have found a dinosaur outside of the theropod lineage,” Dr. Pascal Godefroit, the study’s first author, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, said. “This means that feathers probably existed in the common ancestors of both lineages. And all the descendants of this common ancestor potentially could have feathers as well.”

Dr. Maria McNamara of Cork University added, “[I]nstead of thinking of dinosaurs as dry, scary, scaly creatures, a lot of them actually had a fluffy, downy covering like feathers on a chick.”

Dr. McNamara’s description takes a little horror away from the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, doesn’t it? Somehow, being chased by a giant baby chicken isn’t nearly as intimidating as being chased by a giant, pointy-toothed lizard.

According to Dr. Godefroit, it will be a challenge to prove how wide-spread the feathery characteristic of dinosaurs was. Feathers don’t normally become fossilized and so traces of them are rarely found.

If proof that all (or nearly all) dinosaurs were covered with feathers is found, it could mean an overhaul of all exhibits in all museums featuring dinosaurs. The scaly-skinned models would have to be changed over for fluffier versions.

“Perhaps it’s better to represent them as big chickens,” Dr. Godefroit said. “Maybe T. rex was some kind of big chicken.”

The theory of feathery dinosaurs has not gone undisputed. Researchers are continuing to debate whether or not the feathers lasted. One of the theories contains the possibility that dinosaurs were born with feathers but molted to give way for the familiar scaly-skin as they grew into adulthood.

[Image courtesy of Andrey Atuchin ]