Breakthrough in understanding shows that they were fluffy and downy like chicks
The new knowledge comes from a plant-eating creature called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, which was around one metre long. It had a short snout, long hind legs, short arms, and five strong fingers. Picture: Andrei Atuchin
A dinosaur graveyard in Kulinda, on the banks of the the Olov River in Transbaikal region, has given up some remarkable secrets. For the first time, plant-eating dinosaur remains with feathers and scales have been discovered. Until now, only flesh-eating dinosaurs were known to have been feathered.
The latest find in Siberia indicates that - on the contrary - all dinosaurs could have been feathered, says a paper in Science magazine.
'It is a big discovery. It has completely changed our vision of dinosaurs', lead researcher Dr Pascal Godefroit, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, who worked alongside Russian scientists, told the BBC.
The new knowledge comes from a plant-eating creature called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, which was around one metre long. It had a short snout, long hind legs, short arms, and five strong fingers.
'Our new find clinches it: all dinosaurs had feathers, or at least the potential to sprout feathers.' Picture: Pascal Galinvaux/RBINS
Fossil remains show 'reptile-like scales on its tail and shins, and short bristles on its head and back. The most astonishing discovery, however, is that it also has complex, compound feathers associated with its arms and legs,' reported http://www.naturalsciences.be
This animal was a ornithischian - which account for half of all dinosaurs.
'I was really amazed when I saw this. We knew that some of the plant-eating ornithischian dinosaurs had simple bristles, and we couldn't be sure whether these were the same kinds of structures as bird and theropod feathers. Our new find clinches it: all dinosaurs had feathers, or at least the potential to sprout feathers,' he said.
'The fact that feathers have now been discovered in two distinct groups, theropods in China and ornithischians in Russia, means that the common ancestor of these species which might have existed 220 million years ago also probably had feathers,' he added.
Over several summer digs, the Russian-Belgian team excavated many dinosaur fossils, as well as plant and insect fossils. Pictures: T. Hubin/RBINS, V. Shevchenko
Dr Maria McNamara, of Cork University, in Ireland, said: 'Instead of thinking of dinosaurs as dry, scary scaly creatures a lot of them actually had a fluffy, downy covering like feathers on a chick.'
But - asked the BBC - does this mean all dinosaurs like Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex and the vicious Velociraptor, were fluffier and cuter?
Professor Mike Benton, of Bristol University, another researcher on the project, said: 'Our research doesn't mean that all dinosaurs had feathers, especially as adults.
'Some will have had feathers as young animals and kept them throughout their lives. Others may have lost feathers as they grew up, and became large enough not to need them, or replaced feathers with scales or relied on bony plates in the skin for protection.'
But it shows dinosaurs were all initially feathered and warm blooded, confirmation of an idea that has prevailed for years, he said.
'Feathers were used first for insulation and signaling; they only later became adapted for flight.'
Top to bottom: Kulinda site, where dinosaurs remains were found, Dr. Sofya Sinitsa of Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology, Chita, Trans-Baikal region, Dr. Sofya Sinitsa and Dr. Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and Dr. Sinitsa's assistant working on the site. Pictures: V. Shevchenko
The Kulinda site was first explored in 2010 by Siberian scientist Sofia Sinitsa and her team from the Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology in Chita.
Over several summer digs, the Russian-Belgian team excavated many dinosaur fossils, as well as plant and insect fossils.
Feather expert, Danielle Dhouailly from the Universite Joseph Fourier in La Tronche, France, told the Belgian site: 'The feathers look like down feathers from some modern chickens.’
'When we compare them with the leg scales, it looks as if the scales are aborted feathers, an idea that has been suggested to explain why modern birds also have scaly bare legs.'
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