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Largest feathered dinosaur discovered in China - Yutyrannus huali or 'beautiful feathered tyrant'

By Dave Armstrong - 05 Apr 2012 15:3:0 GMT
Feathered dinosaur discovered in China - Yutyrannus huali

Yutyrannus huali is a newly-discovered early Cretaceous dinosaur from the rich Chinese fossil beds. He is the great granddaddy of Tyrannosaurus rex and could well have handled himself, don't you think?; Credit: Brian Choo

When the dinosaur groups first evolved feathers, we have seen many Chinese examples of small chicken-like reptiles from Cretaceous and Jurassic times. Now, like a rampant bus charging through the ancient records, we have a one and a half ton giant with stubbly feathers. No way could this beast flop through the air!

He's a tyrannosauroid with one large and two small very complete fossils, again from Liaoning Province in China. The specimens are 125 million years old, almost twice the age of the Tyrannosaur dynasty. That means they are ancestral, basal tyrannosaurids! With three fingers on huge feet, the feathers are long and filamentous on its back.

The name given is Yutysaurus huali, meaning he is a beautiful feathered tyrant. Xing Xu, Kebai Wang, Ke Zhang, Qingyu Ma, Lida Xing, Corwin Sullivan, Dongyu Hu, Shuqing Cheng & Shuo Wang decided to name him as such in the current publication of the journal Nature. They hail from Shenyang and Beijing Universities, University of Alberta and the Zhucheng Dinosaur Museum in Shandong.

Tail section fossil of Yutyrannus huali

Tail section fossil of Yutyrannus huali; Credit: Mr ZANG Hailong

The fossil beds in Liaoning are rich, with Beipiaosaurus the biggest feathered relative found so far. Yuty comes in at 40X the mass of that previous record-holder, becoming the largest feathered dinosaur species discovered to date.

At the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, Xing Xu believes it is, "possible that feathers were much more widespread, at least among meat-eating dinosaurs, than most scientists would have guessed even a few years ago." Of course poor old Tyrannosaurus rex, 60 million years later, had lost his heirloom of feathers and he also had to make do with only two fingers.

Skull fossil of Yutyrannus huali

Skull fossil of Yutyrannus huali; Credit: Mr ZANG Hailong

The down-like feathers on these specimens would have been used for insulation, being densely-packed, but no notion of flying near-relatives is being entertained.

We have to remember that hair/fur hadn't yet been "invented" (ie. evolved by the later mammal-like reptiles), so the feather was one of the very few possibilities for keeping out the cold. Whether colour or decorative displays at mating time would involve the feathers is yet another flight of fancy we can all have a piece of this Easter.

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Topics: Dinosaurs / Fossils