There were Feathered Dinosaurs but not all Dinosaurs were Feathered

Research conducted by palaeontologists at the London Natural History Museum suggests that whilst dinosaurs that were closely related to modern birds (Aves), were probably feathered, other types of dinosaurs such as the Late Cretaceous horned dinosaurs and the duck-billed dinosaurs probably were not covered in feathers.  A book tracing the evolution of feathers is being written and as part of the background to this forthcoming publication, Professor Paul Barrett of the Museum conducted an evolutionary analysis looking at the preserved skin fossils of the 77 dinosaur species where evidence of skin has been preserved.

A Preserved Skin Impression from a Tyrannosaurus rex

T. rex skin impression fossil.

A skin impression associated with Tyrannosaurus rex.  Dinosaurs such as tyrannosaurs may have been feathered, at least whilst they were young animals but there are no signs of feathers or an integumentary covering associated with T. rex skin impressions.

Picture Credit: Biology Letters

Evidence of Reptilian Scaly Skins

The study suggests that the first types of dinosaurs were probably covered in scaly skin and not feathered.  Professor Barrett and his colleagues found no evidence of the earliest members of the Dinosauria being feathered.  Most of the fossil evidence supports the view that a specific proportion of the Theropoda (mostly meat-eating dinosaurs), the Coelurosauria – were feathered.  No evidence for a feathery covering in long-necked, plant-eaters (Sauropodomorpha) has been identified to date.

Sinosauropteryx – The First Dinosaur with Feathers to be Described

Sinosauropteryx fossil.

Sinosauropteryx fossil – the first feathered dinosaur to be described.  This small Chinese dinosaur is a member of the Coelurosauria clade of theropods, the group of theropods most closely associated with feathers.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The First Feathered Dinosaur Fossils were Found in China

Sinosauropteryx a feathered dinosaur.

Analysis of Sinosauropteryx fossil material suggests that this little dinosaur had ginger feathers.

Picture Credit: J. Robbins

The book is due to be published later on this year, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that it would add to the growing list of books aimed at the general reader that helped to explain some of the areas of research currently being conducted on the Dinosauria.

For further articles about feathered dinosaurs and research:

Tyrannosaurus rex loses its feathers: T. rex Sheds its Feathers.

The origins of feathers: Feathers came first, then Birds Evolved.

Did all Dinosaurs have feathers? Did all Dinosaurs have Feathers?

Extension Ideas

  • What evidence can you find for dinosaurs having feathers?  Can you draw up a simplified family tree of the Dinosauria identifying which types of dinosaurs were feathered?
  • What are the reasons for large animals such as the sauropods probably not having a feathery covering?  A hint, think surface to volume ratios and how large animals need to prevent overheating.
  • Create a poster/chart comparing a bird to a meat-eating dinosaur.  What are the similarities, what are the differences?
  • Why do you think some dinosaurs were feathered?  Can you come up with a theory?