The scaly, green, slavering, purely reptilian dinosaur had a good run. Like Pluto as a planet, it’s being replaced by a new scientific understanding, and we just might have to admit that our image of dinosaurs as scaly monsters, as metal as it was, was wrong.

Recent scientific findings from Russia suggest that it’s possible that not just some, but all, dinosaurs had feathers, as scientist have found the first plant-eating dinosaur fossils with visible feathers, according to a press release about the find.

The newly found dinosaur was named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus because it was discovered at a place called Kulinda near the Olov River in Siberia.  The small, about a meter long, dinosaur showed signs of being adapted to plant-eating and appears to have had “complex compound feathers” around its arms and legs.

This is a big deal because the dinosaurs that have been found so far with feathers have been theropods, meat eaters that were the direct ancestors of birds. It’s no huge surprise that Big Bird’s exponentially great-grandad had feathers, but if plant eaters had them it’s possible feathers were simply a dinosaur trait, not a proto-bird trait.

“I was really amazed when I saw this. We knew that some of the plant-eating ornithischian dinosaurs had simple bristles, and we couldn’t be sure whether these were the same kinds of structures as bird and theropod feathers. Our new find clinches it: all dinosaurs had feathers, or at least the potential to sprout feathers,” said Dr Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural History in Brussels, lead author of the study.

According to the press release, the research shows its possible that feathers were found among the earliest dinosaurs more than 220 million years ago, were used for insulation and signalling long before flight, and may have been lost when dinosaurs “grew up and became larger.”

So we lose some of the green and scaly guys, but we get a vision of the Triassic where herds of dinosaurs as colorful as any flock of South American parrots roamed the land. It’ll take some mental adjustment, but it’s a beautiful idea. I wonder if Spielberg will go back and re-cut Jurassic Park?

[Source: Bristol University]

Image credit: Andrey Atuchin via Bristol University


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