We Finally Have Dinosaur Feathers


On December 8, a report in Current Biology helped researchers to discover more about exacts in dinosaurs’ feather structure and evolution. The big news: we can’t do that with fossil evidence alone, but we have more evidence today. Feathers have been found in amber before, but this specimen could be the ultimate missing link in this issue.

Ryan McKellar from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada had this to say on December 11th about the finding: “The new material preserves a tail consisting of eight vertebrae from a juvenile; these are surrounded by feathers that are preserved in 3D and with microscopic detail,”

With vertebrae, researchers are able to pinpoint the possible species that the sample came from. Knowing the species that the feathers belonged to could help scientists make conclusions about a number of evolutionary and even environmental factors at the time.

“We can be sure of the source because the vertebrae are not fused into a rod or pygostyle as in modern birds and their closest relatives. Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side.” In other words, the feathers definitely are those of a dinosaur not a prehistoric bird.”

The coloration of the feathers suggests a brown top and cream coloured bottom body of the animal, a color-scheme common in animals such as mice today.

Current Biology, Xing and McKellar et al.: “A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber” http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)31193-9

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