Bound by history

By | Science & Technology
credit@andreyatuchin An artist's rendition of what the new dinosaur might have looked like.

Evolution can be a remarkable phenomenon. Life came from humble beginnings until it was able to develop into a vast array of different species. The dinosaurs were among the most unique and successful creatures to cultivate the planet. They flourished for 65 million years and traces of their legacy are still being discovered today. It is still a relatively new idea that some dinosaurs were born with fluff or even feathers. This puts them in the same family as different species of birds. The link between them has always been strong, and a new discovery in Siberia will help to broaden the gap between dinosaurs and birds.

The new dinosaur has been christened Kulindadoromeus zabaikalicus (Koo-lin-dro-mee-us Zah-bike-kal-ik-kuss). The specimen is a 4.5 feet long beaked dinosaur. What makes the discovery fascinating is that all the feathered dinosaurs that have been discovered in China belonged to the raptor group of theropod dinosaurs. They were powerful hunters with large claws and teeth. The group are considered the ancestors of modern birds. As another family has been discovered with similar features, this suggests that the typical ancestors of all dinosaurs had feathers.

The fossils were made up of six skulls and a number of other bones. This has added greater diversity to the families of dinosaurs that were covered in feathers. With the revelation of their being more than one group, it has unlocked new possibilities into how the species differed in using their plumage. Kulindadromeus was reputed to have scales as well as feathers, specifically arched scales that were located on a long tail.

Paleontologist Jakob Vinter of the University of Bristol has expressed his excitement over the find. “It’s really fantastic that dinosaurs with ‘fluff’ are found outside of China. The material and specimens are…fantastic; their age and sheer numbers are rarely to be expected.” As the dinosaurs can be found in more than one place it will allow for greater research. Paleontologists will have the opportunity to appeal to open up new digging sites in order to find specimens of a similar nature.

Vinter mentioned that Kulindadromeus added a new dimension to feather evolution. This has come about through the three unique feather imprints that were found with the fossils. They are different from other dinosaurs and even from modern birds. The creature has been recorded as living during the Jurassic Period. It could be found near what may now be considered Kulinda River in Siberia. The feathers were located on its back and its ankles. There were ‘ribbon-shaped’ feathers on its shins that are unique. The dinosaur’s name means ‘Kulinda River running dinosaur.’

The specimen’s scales resemble the scales on certain types of birds. The genetic route between dinosaurs and birds has grown stronger based on this discovery. Stephen Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh confirms this. “The new Siberian fossils are the best example yet that some ornithischian dinosaurs had feathers.” There is the potential that another species could be found in the near future. Paleontologists are working more diligently than ever to ensure new fossils are receiving rigorous study. Brusatte is confident in the assertion that bird’s genetics are deeply embedded in dinosaur history. “I think that the common ancestor of dinosaurs probably had feathers, and that all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair.”

Dinosaurs will ever remain fascinating in the eyes of paleontologists and the general public. They came in every shape and size and are well known, from Diplodocus to T-Rex. Only time will tell if the link between birds and dinosaurs strengthens. Evolution continues to find a way.

How do feathered dinosaurs contribute to the idea that evolution is selective?

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