WASHINGTON: German researchers said they have discovered a fossil of a feathered hatchling that may be the earliest evidence of a plumed, meat-eating dinosaur that was not closely related to birds.
The fossil is believed to belong to a young land-based dinosaur from the Late Jurassic period, some 170 million years ago, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This is a surprising find from the cradle of feathered dinosaur work, the very formation where the first feathered dinosaur Archaeopteryx was collected over 150 years ago,” said Mark Norell, an author on the new paper, in a press statement from the American Museum of Natural History.
Names for its squirrel-like tail
Named Sciurumimus albersdoerferi, in part after its bushy, squirrel-like tail – tree squirrels come from the genus Sciurus. The species name honours the private collector who made the specimen available for scientific study.
It is the “most complete megalosauroid fossil yet,” the study said. Megalosauroid is the name for a wide-ranging group of carnivorous dinosaurs that could grow as big as 30 feet long (nine meters) and weigh up to one ton.
The fossil, which shows a juvenile dinosaur with its jaws open and tail extending far over its head, was found in a limestone quarry in Bavaria, Germany.
Skin and feathers revealed under UV light
The hatchling, 71 centimetres in length, likely had a large skull, shorter hind limbs and smooth skin with feathers covering its entire body.
“Under ultraviolet light, remains of the skin and feathers show up as luminous patches around the skeleton,” said co-author Helmut Tischlinger, from the Jura Museum Eichstatt.
Earlier this year, paleontologists in China said they had found a bizarre species of giant feathered dinosaur that weighed as much as a car and was related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The soil has been dated to around 125 million years ago to the mid-Cretaceous period, at the peak of the dinosaurs’ long reign over the planet.
That new species was named Yutyrannus huali, an amalgam of Latin and Mandarin which means “beautiful feathered tyrant.”