Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Beautiful Feathered Tyrant

  • 5 Apr 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald
  • Deborah Smith SCIENCE EDITOR

Meet T.rex’s feathered cousin, but don’t mess with this chick

IT WAS fluffy but not to be trifled with. Remains of the largest known feathered creature – alive or extinct – has been discovered in China.
About nine metres long and weighing a hefty 1400 kilograms, this new dinosaur species – a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex – has been named Yutyrannus huali, or the beautiful feathered tyrant.
Three nearly complete skeletons of the downy giant were unearthed in Liaoning Province in the north-east of the country, near where other smaller feathered dinosaurs have been found.
The research team leader, Xing Xu, of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, said the creatures’ feathers were simple filaments, and it would not have been able to fly. ‘‘They were more like the fuzzy down of a modern baby chick than the stiff plumes of an adult bird.’’

Yutyrannus was about 40 times the weight of the largest previously known feathered dinosaur, Beipiaosaurus.
Professor Xu said its discovery increased the size range of dinosaurs for which definite evidence of feathers was available.
‘‘It’s possible that feathers were much more widespread, at least among the meat-eating dinosaurs, than most scientists would have guessed a few years ago,’’ he said.
The find is reported in the journal
The new tyrannosaur lived about 125 million years ago, and its feathers may have been for insulation.
The climate was colder then than when the scaly T.rex lived, about 67 to 65 million years ago.
Corwin Sullivan, a team member at the same Beijing institute, said large-bodied animals could usually retain their heat easily and were prone to overheating.
‘‘That makes Yutyrannus, which is large and downright shaggy, a bit of a surprise,’’ Dr Sullivan said. The remains included two juveniles that weighed about half a tonne each. They had three fingers on their forelimbs, unlike their more recent relative, T.rex, which weighed more than 6 tonnes and had two fingers.
The simple feathers were only partly preserved in the three dinosaur specimens, so scientists said they could not exclude the possibility they were found only on some sections of the body.

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