News

Fuzzy, Was He?

Newly found fossils show Tyrannosaurus rex’s relative had feathers

April 06, 2012
BRIAN CHOO—BEIJING INSTITUTE OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY AND PALEOANTHROPOLOGY/AP

Y. huali roamed the earth about 125 million years ago. Its fuzzy coat suggests that the climate back then was cooler than scientists first thought.

The Tyrannosaurus rex has always been known as a predator with a huge body, sharp claws and scaly skin. But a new discovery suggests the dinosaur may have had a softer side.

Fossils of a new tyrannosaur species have recently been discovered in northeast China. The fossils have imprints of fluffy feathers, making it the largest feathered dinosaur ever found.

Dr. Corwin Sullivan is a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, China. He is a coauthor of the study. “This opens the possibility that there were more feathered dinosaurs out there,” Corwin told TFK. “Perhaps even T. rex.”

A Feathered Giant

Scientists have named the new tyrannosaur species Yutyrannus huali. The name is a blend of Latin and Mandarin Chinese. It translates to "beautiful feathered tyrant." Experts believe an adult Y. huali would have weighed more than 3,000 pounds and measured about 30 feet long, reaching as high as T. rex’s chest.

The newly discovered shaggy tyrannosaur suggests T. rex may have also had a feathery coat.
BRIAN CHOO—BEIJING INSTITUTE OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY AND PALEOANTHROPOLOGY/AP
The newly discovered shaggy tyrannosaur species suggests T. rex may have also had a feathery coat.

Though the fossils show patchy spots, scientists believe the species had feathers over much of its body. “The dinosaur would have looked pretty shaggy, I think,” Sullivan said. “I imagine it would look and feel more like fur than the feathers we see on birds today.”

A team of Chinese and Canadian scientists studied three well-preserved fossils. They were the remains of one adult dinosaur and two young dinosaurs. Experts say the creature lived about 125 million years ago. That’s about 60 million years before T. rex. Much smaller dinosaurs with feathers have been discovered in recent years, but this is the first clear sign of a huge feathered dinosaur.

Cretaceous Era

The large size and soft feathers of Y. huali would have made flying impossible. But the feathers would have served another purpose. Experts believe the hair-like feathers acted as warm insulation, almost like a winter coat.

“Large-bodied animals typically can retain heat quite easily, and actually have more of a potential problem with overheating,” Sullivan said. “That makes Yutyrannus a bit of a surprise.”

The Cretaceous Period is known to have been generally warm. However, Y. Huali most likely lived during the middle part of the Early Cretaceous, when temperatures are thought to have been somewhat cooler.

Since T. rex is related to this newly found feathery species, experts say chances are good that T. rex had feathers as well. But fuzzy doesn’t equal cuddly. These dinosaurs would have been just as fierce. 


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