Feathered dinosaurs were much fluffier than modern birds

New researchers shows that feathered dinosaurs were much fluffier than modern bird species.
By Joseph Scalise | Nov 30, 2017
A group of scientists led by researchers at the University of Bristol have built the most accurate depiction of feathered dinosaurs to date, showing the ancient reptiles were much fluffier than previously thought.

Birds are the direct descendants of a group of feathered, carnivorous dinosaurs known as paravians. In the study, researchers analyzed the fossil of one such species, Anchiornis and compared its fossilized feathers to those of other dinosaurs and extinct birds.

That showed the feathers around Anchiornis' body -- known as contour feathers -- had a never-before-seen short quill that had long, flexible barbs coming out at low angles to form two vanes and a forked feather shape.

Such feathers are important because they would have given Anchiornis a fluffy appearance that is distinctly different than the sleek look of modern birds. Most species today have tightly-zipped vanes that form continuous surfaces. Anchiornis' feathers were unzipped, and may have been worse at controlling temperature or repelling water.

In addition, the ancient feathers did not have the aerodynamic, asymmetrical vanes of modern flight feathers, and the vanes were also not tightly-zipped. That would have hindered their ability to form a lift surface. To compensate, paravians had multiple rows of long feathers on their wings. Many also had four wings rather than two.

"[T]his highlights how we can't simply depict these dinosaurs that are closely related to true birds as fully modern in their bird-like characteristics," study co-author Evan Saitta, a researcher at the University of Bristol, told Motherboard. "They had feathers like birds, but these would have been more primitive in form."

This finding is important because is gives a more accurate depiction of how feathered dinosaurs may have looked. It also sheds new light on the evolution of feathers and provides further insight into the mechanisms behind early flight.

"Overall, our study provides some new insight into the appearance of dinosaurs, their behavior and physiology, and the evolution of feathers, birds, and powered flight," added Saitta, according to Phys.org.

The results of this study are published in the journalPaleontology.

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