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Dressed to kill: A feathered tyrannosaur is discovered in China

A team of paleontologists has dubbed their find Yutyrannus huali – beautiful feathered tyrant. At 1.5 tons, this 'fuzz ball ... with a mouth full of killer teeth' is the largest feathered dinosaur by far.

This artist concept provided by the Beijing Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology shows a new species of tyrannosaur, Y. huali, discovered in China.

Brian Choo/Beijing Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology/AP

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It's not often you see a dinosaur with a girth and toothy grimace reminiscent of Tyrannosaurus rex yet covered in a downy winter coat worthy of L.L. Bean.

But that's what a team of paleontologists in China reports. They've dubbed their find Yutyrannus huali (beautiful feathered tyrant), a creature that stretched 30 feet from tail-tip to snout and weighed 1.5 tons.

It's the largest dinosaur yet to host feather-like features all over its body – features well preserved on three nearly complete, mostly intact fossil skeletons the team found.

“It's very intriguing to think of this very large fuzz ball running around with a mouth full of killer teeth,” quips Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Washington.

But, he adds, the discovery addresses a serious question researchers have asked since the first fossils of feathered dinosaurs were uncovered in the 1990s: How widely do they appear among the various types of dinosaurs?

Meat-eating dinosaurs hosting feathers makes sense, Dr. Sues says, because they are the ancestors of modern birds. But if the covering extends to the vegetarians as well, it would imply that feathers of some sort came from a common primitive dinosaur ancestor to both the carnivores and vegetarians, Sues suggests. That in turn raises the question: Would feathers have helped the earliest dinosaurs gain an evolutionary advantage over their rivals, many of which had dinosaur-like features in their skeletons, but became dead-end branches on the so-called Tree of Life. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs survived, ruling the planet for nearly 200 million years.


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