Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bow to Yutyrannus, your great feathered overlord

Yutyrannus huali, illustrated by Brian Choo.

In what is undoubtedly the dinosaur news of the year, we finally have a giant theropod sporting unmistakable feathers. Described in Nature, Yutyrannus - so new Google tries to correct it to Eotyrannus - hails from Early Cretaceous China, and destroys Beipiaosaurus's claim as the largest feathered dinosaur. It's going to take a massive story to top this one this year. Which, naturally, I hope happens.

This is a paleontological jackpot already, but add to it the fact that there are three individuals and they are quite complete and the importance of this discovery is greatly magnified. "Multiple specimens are always great and animals this size being preserved at all are quite rare in the Jehol, so it’s pretty impressive we have three of them," writes Dave Hone.

Creating an image that's sure to inspire paleoartists everywhere, Ed Yong relates an hypothesis on the use of Yutyrannus's feathers from paleontologist and lead author Xu Xing:
Xu speculates that Yutyrannus’s feathers might have been a winter coat. While most giant tyrannosaurs enjoyed warm climates during the late Cretaceous, Yutyrannus lived at a time when the average yearly temperature was a nippy 10 degrees Celsius. Maybe it was the tyrannosaur equivalent of woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos, whose shaggy coats protected them during the Ice Age. “The idea of woolly tyrannosaurs stalking colder climates in the Cretaceous is kinda mind-blowing,” says Witmer.
This is that rarest of stories in which it's actually appropriate to invoke the name of T. rex in a headline, as now we have much better evidence that the giant tyrants at the end of the Cretaceous could very well have worn plumage of their own. This will further alienate those who can't stand the thought of the scales of their favorite Mesozoic monsters giving way to feathers, but as someone who has devoted a lot of time over the last six months to studying feathers, I'd encourage you to look at it this way: feathers are by far the most amazing integumentary structure ever evolved. There's no comparison. The tyrant lizards deserved nothing less.

Now excuse me as I go lose myself in Mesozoic reverie. Endorphins, take me away...

More on my new favorite dinosaur:
Green Tea and Velociraptors
Theropoda
Tetrapod Zoology
Archosaur Musings
Nature News
Not Exactly Rocket Science
Carl Zimmer
Why Evolution is True
Wired
NeuroLogica
Brett Booth
The Independent
Telegraph
LiveScience by way of HuffPo
MSNBC

20 comments:

  1. Woohoo! Although one wonders how this would have aided these creatures in their natural aquatic habitat. /topicalhumour

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    1. Wa wa wa waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa... And I didn't even dig into its other characters. If I had the time. Do not hesitate to write about this one yourself! LITY.

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    2. Not sure if I'd have much to add. Tempted to write about aquaticballs, because taking the piss is my forté, or so it would seem.

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  2. Obviously, this is fantastic, but I have consistently heard tales of a fossilized skin impression of a Tyrannosaur referenced all over the net (including wikipedia). But haven't found any proof, visual or otherwise. Is this a case of people trying to wish something into existence?

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  3. This is a whole different ball of wax. The fine quality of the sediment - basically volcanic ash which settled in still water - allows the same level of detail provided by the other feathered dinosaurs and early birds of China. The Archosaur Musings link in particular has terrific photos of the actual fossil slabs.

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    1. Sure, sure. I know the fossils coming out of the area are as terrific as they come, I was just asking about these alleged Tyrannosaur skim impressions with pebbled scales I've heard mentioned in several places but never actually seen.

      Also, it looks like there's feathers all the way down the snout in this photo: http://archosaurmusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/yutyrannus_skull.jpg
      but not in the artist's reconstruction.

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    2. I don't think those white marks are feathers. (They look like chisel marks, but I'm not sure that's what they are.) The dark streaks near the upper left look more like the feathers.

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    3. Yeah, they're scratch marks fo' sho' - seen them a million times.

      Can't help but feel left out of your list there Dave.. ;)

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    4. Maybe you would have been on it had your post been up when I wrote mine? Cheeky basatard.

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  4. (Head explodes with joy.)

    Three fingers, eh? He could flip the bird at everyone who wants their dinosaurs naked! WHY DO I WANT TO DRAW THIS SO MUCH WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!?

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    1. Nothing is wrong with you, Trish. Well, OK, there probably are quite a few things wrong, but none of them pertain to wanting to draw this dinosaur.

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    2. I want to draw it, too. Except at the rate I do anything and with fifty thousand other palaeo-artists clamouring to illustrate this beast, I think I may just have to let it pass. For now.

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    4. Yeh, stay off the bandwagon Niroot! ;-)

      Yutyrannus is like 'Kony 2012' for dinosaur illustrators!

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  5. The name translates to 'beautiful feathered tyrant', which has to be one of the best names for a dinosaur ever.

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  6. Best dino discovery in the last 5 years... at least! Like Holtz I´m willing to see how the anti feather-in-big-dinos crowd and BANDits are going to deal with this. The winter coat thing is just uber BS...

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  7. I agree this is one of the biggest stories since Tianyulong at least. But Holtz keeps hinting on the DML that something else major is in the pipeline.

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  8. Anyone else just can't find the feathers????
    I've been checking every published picture of the fossils I can find and I don't see feathers. The reddish vertebrae are obvious, and I see faint parallel marks in some places but they don't make me think 'feather'.
    Could someone edit the fossil picture to show the evidence more clearly?

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    Replies
    1. The reddish parallel lines above the vertebrae are the feathers. Don't go looking for vaned feathers as on modern birds - you won't find them. They more closely resemble hair, and are pretty obvious on photos of the specimen. Dave Hone (Archosaur Musings) posted some very-hi-res ones.

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    2. Also, they're not strictly 'feathers', depending on your definition. I *think* 'true feathers' are pennaceous/assymetric or flight-bearing feathers, which these clearly aren't, hence the phrase 'dino-fuzz'. I prefer the term 'protofeather' for now - a much simpler precursor for the typical feathers seen on most modern birds.

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