September 30, 2009


Who wouldn't be completely smitten with this lovely little critter!

The latest issue of Nature has published the description of what is billed as the oldest feathered dinosaur, Anchiornis huxleyi. It's adorable! Read more here and here.

It's not surprising anymore to find dinosaurs with feathers, as a matter of fact there are several small toy models of feathered dinosaurs on my desk right now looking up at me so they've started to find their way into popular culture. What makes Anchiornis so striking is that both the sediments in which it was found and its characteristics place it at the very base of the origin of birds from small feathered dinosaurs in the late Jurassic, before the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx. It provides evidence of bird-like features in a time before there were birds. All other feathered dinosaur fossils that have been found have been dated to a later time.

There are of course many more interesting details surrounding this finding, but I'll just refer you to the far more knowledgeable articles I linked to above. I just wanted to get something down because this is exactly the kind of thing that gets my imagination going and really takes me back to when I was first "bitten" by dinosaurs when I was seven or eight years old. I can only imagine what I must have thought or felt back then if someone had told that not only had there been small, feathered, four-winged (!) dinosaurs hopping and flapping around on earth, but that all birds were actually living breathing dinosaurs; great, great, great, grand-cousins of Velociraptor or T. rex. I still can't walk past the thrushes and blackbirds that skittishly and vigilantly peck for earth worms out on the yard without smiling to myself imagining a much, much older, but maybe not too dissimilar scenario in the Mesozoic.

Hu, D., Hou, L., Zhang, L., & Xu, X. (2009). A pre-Archaeopteryx troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus Nature, 461 (7264), 640-643 DOI: 10.1038/nature08322

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