Wednesday 21 August 2019

Feathers came first: Dinosaurs beat the birds by 100 million years

In fine feather: Dinosaurs are now known to have developed feathers 250 million years ago, probably for warmth, many ages before birds emerged
In fine feather: Dinosaurs are now known to have developed feathers 250 million years ago, probably for warmth, many ages before birds emerged
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

What came first - the feathers or the birds?

Feathers actually arose 100 million years before birds, new research suggests, which changes how we look at dinosaurs, birds and pterosaurs.

The study also changes our understanding of feathers themselves, their functions and their role in some of the largest events in evolution.

The research was carried out by an international team, which included University College Cork palaeontologist Dr Maria McNamara.

"For 20 years we've known that theropod dinosaurs, closely related to birds, had feathers," says Dr McNamara.

"This pushed the origin of feathers back to the origins of bird-like dinosaurs around 200 million years ago. Then our work on a new dinosaur from Russia, kulindadromeus, showed that even basal dinosaurs, very distantly related to birds, had feathers. This suggested that even the very first dinosaurs may have been feathery."

"Kulindadromeus has scaly legs, just like modern birds," says co-author Danielle Dhouailly from the University of Grenoble.

Co-author Baoyu Jiang from Nanjing University said the breakthrough came when studying two pterosaurs, or flying reptiles, from China.

"We expected isolated filaments but we saw tufts and branched structures. Pterosaurs had feathers."

This drives the origin of feathers back to 250 million years ago, according to study lead Mike Benton from the University of Bristol.

This was "the point of origin of pterosaurs, dinosaurs and their relatives". At the time, the early Triassic period, the world was recovering from a mass extinction event and life on land had come back from near-total wipe-out.

Irish Independent

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