‘Like nothing seen in nature before’: Scientists discover strange dinosaur
Ubirajara jubatus had ‘mane of hair-like structures’ and unique ‘ribbon’ features
A depiction of Ubirajara jubatus, which lived along the shores of an ancient lagoon in what is now northeastern Brazil about 110 million years ago. Image: Twitter
About 110 million years ago along the shores of an ancient lagoon in what is now northeastern Brazil, a two-legged chicken-sized Cretaceous-period dinosaur made a living hunting insects and perhaps small vertebrates such as frogs and lizards.
On the inside, it was ordinary with a skeleton similar to many small dinosaurs from the preceding Jurassic period, scientists said on Tuesday. On the outside, it was anything but.
This dinosaur, called Ubirajara jubatus, possessed a mane of hair-like structures while also boasting two utterly unique, stiff, ribbon-like features probably made of keratin – the same substance that makes up hair and fingernails – protruding from its shoulders.
“There are plenty of other strange dinosaurs, but this one is unlike any of them,” said paleobiology professor David Martill of the University of Portsmouth in England, who helped lead the study published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
Ubirajara’s hair-like structures appear to be a rudimentary form of feathers called protofeathers. This was not actual hair, an exclusively mammalian feature. Many dinosaurs had feathers. In fact, birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs about 150 million years ago.
“Likely from a distance it looked hairy rather than feathery,” Prof Martill said. “Likely it had hair-like protofeathers over much of its body but they are only preserved along its neck, back and arms. The ones on its back are very long and give it a sort of mane that is unique for dinosaurs.”
Ubirajara’s ribbon-like structures may have been used for display, possibly to attract mates or intimidate adversaries or in intermale rivalry, he added. Such displays often are made by male animals – think of a peacock’s elaborate tail feathers – leading Prof Martill to make an “educated guess” that this Ubirajara individual was male.
“The ribbons that seem to come from the shoulders are like nothing I have seen in nature before,” Prof Martill said.
While it is impossible to know from the fossil, Prof Martill said Ubirajara may have been colourful.
“I bet it was,” he added. – Reuters