Dinosaur Tail Feathers in Amber – #365papers – 2017 – 1

#365papers – January 1, 2017

Xing, McKellar, Xu, Li, Bai, Persons, Miyashita, Benton, Zhang, Wolfe, Yi, Tseng, Ran, and Currie, 2016, A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber: Current Biology, v. 26, p. 3352-3360.

What’s it about?

Part of a dinosaur tail was found in Burmese amber and had bones on the inside and feathers on the outside. This dinosaur was a small theropod, a group that also includes Tyrannosaurus rex.

Why does it matter?

This is interesting because there is still some debate about the feathered-ness of dinosaurs. Were they covered with downy fluff? Did they have pinnate feathers – those with a solid quill in the middle? This shows that well-developed feathers existed on dinosaurs that were not capable of flying.

Furthermore, the shape of the feathers provides insight into the evolution of the flight feathers of modern birds. These feathers are an intermediate step between the primitive fuzz of early feathers and modern feathers.

Why did I read this?

I read this paper because I over the course of my short career, dinosaurs have done from massive, slow, scaly beasts to fast and fluffy feathered animals. This discovery is direct evidence of feathers on non-flying dinosaurs, which is now generally accepted anyway, but wasn’t always.

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