Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Time to rewrite the textbooks again

It appears that all those books, movies, illustrations, etc. showing dinosaurs as big, scaly creatures will have to go in the trash. The discovery of a new dinosaur, Tianyulong confuciusi, by Chinese researchers led by Xiao-Ting Zheng could possibly remodel conventional wisdom regarding the body covering of dinosaurs

Anybody who has looked at a dinosaur picture book more than once in childhood can remember dinosaurs in all their myriad shapes as having scaly or armor-plated skin. Over the last few decades, the discoveries of theropods, meat-eating dinosaurs with evidence of feathers has brought the idea of theropods covered in a coat of feathers. The early horned dinosaurs, psittacosaurs, left fossils with apparent quills over the back and tail. That was it for covering.

Until now. Tianyulong was found with impressions that resemble the proto-feathers of early theropods. One problem. Tianyulong was a heterodontosaur, an early branch on the tree on the other side of the main split; the Saurischia-Ornithischia division. That means all of the families of dinosaurs might have had some sort of covering at some point in their history. They might have been fuzzy or furry or downright shaggy.

Illustrators are going to have a field day.

Image by Xing Li-Da.

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