The filmmakers behind that new "Jurassic Park" movie better add a lot more plumage to their computer-generated dinosaurs: Researchers say fossils unearthed in Siberia suggest that feathers were much more prevalent among dinosaurs than previously thought.
Paleontologists have long known that a class of dinosaurs called theropods had feathers, based on a close analysis of fossils from geological formations in China. Theropods were meat-eaters, such as the Tyrannosaurus rex that chewed up the scenery (and a lawyer) in the original "Jurassic Park."
The new twist is that the Siberian fossils represent a completely different category of dinosaurs, known as ornithiscians. Such dinosaurs were plant-eaters: The spiny-backed stegosaur and big-headed parasaurolophus serve as examples.
In Friday's issue of the journal Science, researchers led by Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences classify the hundreds of fossils as representing a previously unknown species, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus. They say the creature, which lived more than 150 million years ago during the Middle to Late Jurassic period, had scales on its tail and shins, bristles on its head and neck — and feathers on its limbs.
Other researchers previously have found evidence of quill-like structures on fossils from other ornithischians, but the newly described fossils serve as the best evidence to date that plant-eaters as well as meat-eaters had feathers. And that implies that dinosaur feathers have deep evolutionary roots.
"Feathers may thus have been present in the earliest dinosaurs," the researchers write.
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In addition to Godefroit, the authors of "A Jurassic Ornithiscian Dinosaur From Siberia With Both Feathers and Scales" include Sofia Sinitsa, Danielle Dhouailly, Yuri Bolotsky, Alexander Sizov, Maria McNamara, Michael Benton and Paul Spagna.