National Geographic News
An illustration of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, a feathered dinosaur, in its natural environment.

This illustration of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, a newfound feathered dinosaur, shows it in its natural environment.

Illustration by Andrey Atuchin

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published July 24, 2014

Almost all dinosaurs were probably covered in feathers, Siberian fossils of a tufted, two-legged running dinosaur dating from roughly 160 million years ago suggest.

Over the past two decades, discoveries in China have produced at least five species of feathered dinosaurs. But they all belonged to the theropod group of "raptor" dinosaurs, ancestors of modern birds. (Related: "Dinosaur-Era Fossil Shows Birds' Feathers Evolved Before Flight.")

Now in a discovery reported by an international team in the journal Science, the new dinosaur species, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus (KOO-lin-dah-DRO-mee-us ZAH-bike-kal-ik-kuss), suggests that feathers were all in the family. That's because the newly unearthed 4.5-foot-long (1.5 meter) two-legged runner was an "ornithischian" beaked dinosaur, belonging to a group ancestrally distinct from past theropod discoveries.

"Probably that means the common ancestor of all dinosaurs had feathers," says study lead author Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science in Brussels. "Feathers are not a characteristic [just] of birds but of all dinosaurs." (Related: "Dinosaur Feathers Changed With Age.")

The fossils, which included six skulls and many more bones, greatly broaden the number of families of dinosaurs sporting feathers—downy, ribboned, and thin ones in this case—indicating that plumes evolved from the scales that covered earlier reptiles, probably as insulation. In addition to its feathers, Kulindadromeus also had scales, notably arched ones that appeared in rows on its long tail.

"It's really fantastic that dinosaurs with 'fluff' are found outside of China," says paleontologist Jakob Vinther of the United Kingdom's University of Bristol, who was not on the discovery team. "The material and specimens are nothing short of fantastic; their age and sheer number are rarely to be expected."

Kulindadromeus adds a whole new dimension to understanding feather evolution, Vinther says, pointing to the fact that the three feather types found as imprints with the fossils are different from ones found on feathered dinosaurs or modern birds.

What exactly did all these different feathers do? "I don't know; nobody knows for sure," Godefroit says. "These animals couldn't fly, that's all we can tell you."

Jurassic Peeps

During the Jurassic, Kulindadromeus lived near what is now Siberia's Kulinda River, sporting feathery tufts on its legs and elbows, as well as more streamlined feathers on its back. Its shins had "ribbon-shaped" feathers of a type never seen before.

At least six skulls of the species, along with hundreds of bones, have turned up in a fossil bed that was once a lake bottom and is now a Siberian hillside. Most of the fossils were juveniles, which suggests that they died in single events, not in a mass catastrophe, according to Godefroit.

The dinosaur's name essentially means "Kulinda River running dinosaur." Zabaikalsky Krai is the region of Siberia where it was discovered (which explains its species name, zabaikalicus).

"There were lakes and there were volcanoes there, lots of volcanoes," Godefroit says. The plant-eating dinosaurs likely died and fell to the lake bottom, where eruptions soon after covered them with a fine ash. That is what preserved the feather imprints with the fossil bones.

"We don't know how big this fossil bed is, and it is likely we will find more when we go back," Godefroit says.

The Feather Connection

The scales on Kulindadromeus resemble the scaly skin seen on some birds, the study says, which also argues for a deep genetic root linking dinosaurs to birds.

Two earlier ornithischian dinosaur discoveries, both from China, had hinted that featherlike bristles had covered dinosaurs, notes paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the United Kingdom's University of Edinburgh.

"But the new Siberian fossils are the best example yet that some ornithischian [beaked] dinosaurs had feathers, so it wasn't only the theropods that had downy coats," Brusatte says.

"This does mean that we can now be very confident that feathers weren't just an invention of birds and their closest relatives, but evolved much deeper in dinosaur history," he adds. "I think that the common ancestor of dinosaurs probably had feathers, and that all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair."

Even so, Godefroit suggests that the largest dinosaurs likely had the fewest feathers, as they wouldn't have needed them for insulation. "Just like elephants in Africa don't need fur," he says.

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

29 comments
Brett Larsen
Brett Larsen

I find this article's title misleading. There has been no evidence to believe that "all" dinosaurs had feathers. There hasn't been a single case of dinosaurs related to stegosaurus, triceratops, or brachiasourus fossil's being found with any form of feathers.

Roger Lindsley
Roger Lindsley

Elephants, mastodons, did have fur.  Sooo that is kind of an odd (although it ...might.. be true) statement to close with.


Looking at chickens, it kind of seems obvious that birds are dinosaur-like and not any type of surprise to me that dinosaurs had feathering.

Eduardo Yang
Eduardo Yang

I just learn english and visit here, I have no more words for comments.Thanks

Suzanne Barnes
Suzanne Barnes

Excellent article!  And I'm not particularly surprised; dinosaur remains have been found in parts of the world that we *know* were nontropical during their age, and protective plumage would help to retain warmth.  Also, I have to admit from a personal standpoint that, having once been menaced by an ostrich that was apparently determined to eat my *head*, I really have no trouble picturing feathered dinosaurs.

John Jackson
John Jackson

"Probably that means the common ancestor of all dinosaurs had feathers," says study lead author Pascal Godefroit.

Yes - though some commentators on this paper only talk about feathers evolving multiple times.  Simplicity in science is not as central as some think, but even though you don't have to insist on the simplest theory, you cannot just ignore it: Pascal's suggestion should be taken seriously - and not just these plant-eating ornithopods, but also pterosaurs should be considered as having inherited the earliest form of feather not to mention other parts of the family too. 


For FREE (just Saturday 26th July 2014) full, sensible story, see, in US:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008AV7HXO

...or in  UK:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008AV7HXO

 

Ali B.
Ali B.

feathers are not only for insulation, they make a lovely suit for wooing and warning

Warburton MacKinnon
Warburton MacKinnon

Having a slight issue with getting my head around a featherd sauropod dino...that would be one hell of a thanksgiving turkey!

Brian Edwards
Brian Edwards

Imagining a clutch of fluffy triceratops chicks :) . That illustration looks like early pictures of Australian marsupials.

Kenney Sills
Kenney Sills

dinosaur IS bird.....allways theorized but sure is su-weeet to see it bra!
aloha from kauaii

Daniel Cegalla
Daniel Cegalla

Very interesting! But it's a little too early to say "almost all" dinosaurs had feathers. Many didn't, so more investigation and research will be necessary.

Darren Shao
Darren Shao

I find it hard to believe that all dinosaurs were feathered.

John Reyesvilla Méndez
John Reyesvilla Méndez

Parece que los dinosaurios tenían más rasgos de aves que de reptiles, como que empollaban a sus huevos, algunos habrían sido endotermos u homeotermos y, como dijeron ahí, casi todos habrían tenido plumas. Tendremos que revisar los cladogramas.

Steve Hopkins
Steve Hopkins

Would like to see photos of fossils not just an artist's reconstruction of their possible appearance in life.....

KENNETH LANE
KENNETH LANE

Yes interesting but I too would like to view pictures of these fellows remains.

BK Jeong
BK Jeong

@Brett Larsen This is more closely related to the first two than it is to any other feathered dinosaur

Suzanne Barnes
Suzanne Barnes

@Ali B. Very true; bet feathered dinosaurs had mating displays just as many birds do.  Can you imagine a horse-sized dinosaur with plumage as exotic as any peacock's strutting and bobbing in front of potential mates?  :D

Matthew M.
Matthew M.

@Warburton MacKinnon


It probably wouldn't have feathers, just like elephants don't have hair.  In really large animals, overheating becomes a concern, so there is a selective pressure to lose any insulating feathers or fur.  

Roger Lindsley
Roger Lindsley

@Daniel Cegalla Why has everyone up to now assumed that dinosaurs did NOT have feathers?  What evidence is there of that? A lack of feather fossils?  No shnit, there was (was ) also a lack of chromatophore cell fossils until these new fossil were discovered, that indicates that gray bare skin dinosaurs are a vestigial mistaken assumption.  When the very best fossil examples show chromatophores and feathers, we should assume that the best examples are typical, not atypical based on a lack of evidence based assumption.


craig hill
craig hill

@Darren Shao they werenm't all feathered. your belief system in this case is accurate---as it stated in the article btw!

Matt Rueger
Matt Rueger

@Roger Lindsley Scales were considered the norm because imprints of dinosaur scales were found decades before the first non-avian dinosaur feather imprints. There are sauropod, hadrosaur, ceratopsian, carnosaur, and even tyrannosaur fossils that show mosaic scales or leathery skin. There's even evidence that alligators possess dormant genes for feather production, or at least similar genes. In actuality archosaurian integument (including dinosauria for that matter) is far more complicated, both as a group and on individual specimen levels, as "they all had feathers all over their bodies." For many species we'll probably never know exactly what they or their integument looked like, but animals like this show that it's an extremely complicated and constantly evolving viewpoint.


David Hone's article is in my opinion a bit more articulated and informational than this one: http://www.theguardian.com/science/lost-worlds/2014/jul/24/kulindadromeus-feathers-dinosaur-birds-evolution-siberia-russia 

Share

Featured Article

Latest From Nat Geo

See more photo galleries »

The Future of Food Series

See more food news, photos, and videos »