Oh go on, you big fluffy dino

Thu, Apr 12, 2012, 01:00

SMALL PRINT:A MASSIVE dinosaur that lived around 125 million years ago seems to have had a soft side: in the form of fuzzy feathers.

The discovery came to light thanks to three dinosaur fossils – likely an adult and two younger specimens – that were unearthed in what is now northeastern China. Each fossil bears signs of having had long, filamentous feathery structures on its body.

The largest of the beasts would have clocked in at around 1,400 kilograms and roughly nine metres in length when it was alive, and the species has been named Yutyrannus huali, which means “beautiful feathered tyrant” in a combination of Latin and Mandarin.

Many feathered dinosaur fossils of around that vintage have been found in deposits in northeast China, but what sets Y. huali apart is the sheer bulk under the plumage.

“The discovery of Y. huali provides solid evidence for the existence of gigantic feathered dinosaurs and, more significantly, of a gigantic species with an extensive feathery covering,” write the researchers in the journal Nature.

Lead author Xing Xu – who has already uncovered several other feathery dinosaur fossils – describes how the large species may have looked.

“The feathers of Yutyrannus were simple filaments,” he says in a release.

“They were more like the fuzzy down of a modern baby chick than the stiff plumes of an adult bird.”

The shaggy coat may have suited the cool climes of the early Cretaceous period, notes the release.

Meanwhile, an editorial in Nature states: “This basal tyrannosauroid is the largest feathered creature known, living or extinct, and raises interesting questions about dinosaur development and metabolism.”