Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dinos of a feather…

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)


  1. very interesting piece of information. its like the chicken and egg debate. I think that the feathers came first before flight does seem like the more possible time of events. This might explain why flightless birds such as the penguin couldn't fly at all; it's maybe because they didn't have feathers to begin with, hence flight was never a possible form of evolution to take place

    -Hermann Kam

  2. I've learned that feather were evolved for thermoregulation myself. That makes sense to me. Obviously animals of that size cannot fly. However, many there is another explanation that modern biology has not picked up on yet.

    Posted by Jen Silva(3)

  3. This is an interesting article. From what you told us I agree with you on the thermoregulation thing. Although, using feather patterns for intimidation or mating displays are a possibility, especially since those things are common in modern birds.

    Posted by Joseph Frimpong

  4. Maybe the feathers are vestigial from a past evolutionary form that the dinosaurs took? There are all sorts of possibilities, I can't wait for this new piece of information to fit in with the pieces we have to help us complete the puzzle that is the Earth's past.

    Mike Selden (3)