It is well known that dinosaurs are related to birds and that many small dinosaurs had feathers. However, a recent discovery in China has found fossilized dinosaurs that weigh over 1 ton that had feathers. It has been dubbed Yutyrannus huali – or, “beautiful feathered tyrant”. This is a significant finding and helps re frame the debate about feather evolution and dino ecology.
Which came first – flying or thermoregulation? It is a question that is batted around in biology. This finding may help better understand the role of feathers in evolution. It is clear that Y. huali did not fly - it was far too big. So what were the feathers for? Scientists claim they were for thermoregulation – however it is argued that larger animals like Y. huali would have little trouble staying warm and would in fact have issues over heating. So, it is then argued that possibly the climate was cooler during that period of time – however, that too is argued against since large wooly animals today like wildebeests have little trouble staying cool in warm climates. So what were the feathers for? Other hypotheses have been presented that focus on display and mating.
I find discoveries like this one intriguing. Oh how little we truly know about those beasts of ancient times. Maybe the feathers on Y. huali were present for a reason not understood in light of modern biology. If I were to pick a side, however, I would probably lean towards the thermoregulation team. I think it makes sense that scales modified over time to produce feathers that allowed more control of the thermoregulatory processes of these large reptiles.
William Mohn (2)