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Maybe all dinos wore feathers: newly discovered plant eater mixed scales with plumage.

Dinosaurs may have all bundled up in flashy feather coats.

Skulls and other bones of a new dinosaur species unearthed in Siberia support what some scientists have suspected: Dinosaurs with feathers were probably the norm.

"For the first time we have a feathered dinosaur that is far from the lineage leading to birds," says study coauthor Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. "It means that all dinosaurs were potentially covered by feathers."

Paleontologists had previously dug up fossil evidence of feathers that adorned dinolike birds of the Archaeopteryx genus and other ancient avian ancestors. These include one dinosaur recently discovered to have a fluffy, feathery tail. Its finders cited the creature as evidence that every dinosaur could have worn feathers (SN Online: 7/2/12). But the dinos were all theropods--a group of bird forebears that includes the meat eaters T. rex and Megalosaurus.

Whether all dinosaurs or just avian relatives flaunted feathers has been up for debate. In recent years, scientists have found evidence of bristle- and quill-like strands--perhaps early versions of feathers--that speckled the hides of ornithischian dinosaurs. This herbivorous group is more distantly related to birds than theropods. But these fibers aren't clearly feathers, says Godefroit.

He thinks the structures sprouting from his team's newly discovered dinosaur species are. Excavations found hundreds of skeletons and six partial skulls of the Jurassic-period dinosaur Kulindad-romeuszabaikalicus sandwiched between layers of volcanic rock at the bottom of what probably was once a shallow lake.

Though the dinosaurs were ornithischians --far removed from the lineage that led to birds--the fossils bore scales and three types of feathers, Godefroit and colleagues report in the July 25 Science.

From snout to tail, the plant eater stretched about as long as a gray wolf, with strong legs, stubby arms and a squat little skull. Stringy strands of feathers blanketed its head and its torso; tufts of ribbons trimmed its shins; and fluffy feathers like some chickens' budded from scales to sheathe the creature's upper arms and swaddle its thighs. Godefroit thinks the feathers could have kept the dinosaur warm; gussying up in fuzzy duds may also have attracted mates.

Finding a scale-feather combo in dinosaurs "is something completely new," says ornithologist Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt. "It's a great discovery."

Caption: A feathered dinosaur only distantly related to birds, shown In an Illustration, suggests that plumage may have been common among most or even all dinosaurs.


Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.

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Title Annotation:LIFE & EVOLUTION
Author:Rosen, Meghan
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 23, 2014
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