Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fuzzy Tyrannosaurs!

The Chinese palaeontologist Xu Xing and colleagues recently described a very interesting new species of tyrannosauroid. The fossils were recovered from China's Yixian Formation, which dates from the early Aptian stage, of the Early Cretaceous Period. They named it Yutyrannus huali. It is the first tyrannosaur species described in 2012. It was classified as a basal member of the Tyrannosauroidea, being more derived than the likes of Dilong, Guanlong, and Sinotyrannus, but more basal than Eotyrannus. It was much larger than other basal tyrannosauroids, being about 9 meters (30 feet) long, and weighing up to 1,414 kilograms (3,120 pounds).

The most interesting aspect of this incredible creature, however, is not its size, but something completely different. Fossilized impressions of primitive feather-like structures were found around the fossil of the creature's body.  The feathers were around 20 centimeters long, and they were filamentous. The feathers of Yutyrannus covered various parts of its body, including the pelvis, and the foot.

But, perhaps even more amazing is the fact that this newly-discovered dinosaur is a record-breaker; It is the largest known animal in history of which we have direct evidence that it had feathers. This record was previously held by the basal therizinosauroid Beipiaosaurus inexpectus, which was described in 1999.

This startling new find also has major implications, when it comes to how artists draw life reconstructions, of large tyrannosaurs. In my opinion, the discovery that Yutyrannus huali had feathers is a major piece of evidence that large, derived Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids, such as Daspletosaurus torosus, Albertosaurus sarcophagus, Gorgosaurus libratus, Tarbosaurus bataar, and, yes, the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex, might have retained a feather coating, even as adults. However, as of now, all of this is just interesting speculation, and we have no way of knowing, for sure, if any of this stuff is true, or not.

However, one thing, we do know, for sure; The discovery of Yutyrannus proves that good ol' T. rex was actually much more similar to a chicken, than we had previously thought!

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