Feathered Dinosaurs or Scaled Dinosaurs?
Is the widespread concept of dinosaurs as big scaly lizards on its way out? New fossil findings suggest that paleontologists may have to rethink the idea. A recent discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved fossil of a meat-eating dinosaur shows evidence of having a fluffy feathered tail. The creature did not appear to be related to other species of feathered dinosaurs with known feathers and it suggests new possibilities for the proportion of dinosaurs that may have had the downy covering. The specimen was discovered from a limestone quarry in the Bavarian region of Germany and it was determined to be about 150 million years old.
Feathered Dinosaurs: A Squirrel-tailed Specimen
The fossil is thought to be a hatchling dinosaur because of its small size combined with a head that is disproportionately large for its body. Scientists believe it may have drowned when it died, which would be a plausible explanation for the great preservation of the body. The lead paleontologist in the study, Oliver Rauhut, said of the extraordinary fossil “I was overwhelmed when I first saw it. Even apart from the preservation of the feathers, this is certainly one of the most beautiful dinosaur fossils ever found.” Even the bushy tail of the young dinosaur was depicted. It had primitive fuzzy feathers that were similar to hair. Paleontologists named it Sciurumimus albersdoerfi. “Scirius” is actually the scientific name for tree squirrel, which was obviously inspired by its fluffy tail.
Were Feathered Dinosaurs Normal?
Oliver Rauhut thinks the discovery of Sciurumimus suggests that paleontologists should take a new view of typical dinosaur coverings. He stated, “Probably all dinosaurs were feathered, and we should say good bye to the familiar image of the overgrown lizards.”
Paleontologists had previously only found feathers on dinosaurs from the coelurosauria family, which consists of theropod dinosaurs closely related to birds. But Sciurumimus is considered to be a hatchling, or juvenile megalosaurid, which is not related to coelurosaurs. Megalosaurs were primitive carnivorous theropods that were believed to have more reptilian than bird-like features, such as feathers. Megalosaurs evolved earlier than coelurosaurs, which suggests that coelurosaurs were not the earliest bird-like dinosaurs. This in combination with the fact that megalosaurs and coelurosaurs were not closely related, indicates to paleontologists that feathers were more common among dinosaurs than they had originally thought.
The authors of the study on Sciurumimus concluded that the common ancestors of dinosaurs had feathers, but not every paleontologist agreed. Corwin Sullivan, a paleontologist of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing called it more of an “obvious possibility, rather than an obvious conclusion”. It is still a significant discovery, as Dr. Rauhut pointed out, “This new theropod is probably the most significant fossil found on German soil since the discoveries of the original bird Archaeopteryx.” This specimen could mean quite a change in how we view feathered dinosaurs.