Many dinosaurs may have been covered in elaborate feathers similar to those of modern-day birds, according to a study of new fossils. The finding raises the possibility that the very earliest dinosaurs had feathers, and that such plumage was much more common than thought.
The prevailing theory is that the only feathery dinosaurs were two-legged flesh-eaters called theropods, such as Velociraptor. Ultimately, some theropods evolved into today’s birds via intermediates such as Archaeopteryx.
Theropods belong to one of the two major dinosaur groups, the saurischians. Now new fossils suggest that the other major group, the ornithischians, also bore feathers. Ornithischians were plant-eaters and include famous dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Iguanodon and Stegosaurus.
Recently, ornithischians have been found with what appear to be bristly feathers. But these putative feathers were very simple compared with those of theropods and birds. The latest fossil finds are far more elaborate.
Feathers, feathers everywhere
Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels and his colleagues analysed six partial skulls and several hundred other fossils of limb and other bones from two sites in south-east Siberia. They all belong to a new ornithischian called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, which lived 160 million years ago.