Discovery Of Fossilized Feathers, Skin Further Reveal Links Between Dinosaur And Ostriches

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Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

A new fossil discovery of preserved feathers and skin is helping shed light on one of our modern bird’s ancient ancestors.

An undergraduate student at the University of Alberta uncovered the fossilized remains of an Ornithomimus dinosaur with well-preserved feathers and soft tissue. The extraordinary find is said to help researchers better understand feather plumage patterns, as well as continue to strengthen the evolutionary links between dinosaurs and birds.

The fossil is estimated to be roughly 75 million years old. It was found by paleontologist Aaron J. van der Reest in the Upper Cretaceous Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Canada. It is the first fossil to show traces of preserved skin from the femur to the abdomen in a non-avian dinosaur.

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Credit: Illustration by Julius Csotonyi based on the findings.

Credit: Illustration by Julius Csotonyi based on the findings.

Study of the fossil revealed that Ornithomimidae – a genus of omnivorous bipedal dinosaurs – had bare legs, similar to modern-day ostriches.

“We now know what the plumage looked like on the tail, and that from the mid-femur down, it had bare skin,” said van der Reest in the journal Cretaceous Research. “Ostriches use bare skin to thermoregulate. Because the plumage on this specimen is virtually identical to that of an ostrich, we can infer that Ornithomimus was likely doing the same thing, using feathered regions on their body to maintain body temperature. It would’ve looked a lot like an ostrich.”

The Ornithomimus was a flightless bird, standing about 6.5 feet tall, with a small head and toothless beak.

Source: Cretaceous Research

Source: Cretaceous Research

The Globe and Mail’s Ivan Semeniuk better details the evolutionary link between this find and modern birds.

“Birds are thought to have evolved from a different line of dinosaurs than ornithomimus. Rather than indicating direct ancestry, the new fossil suggests that many features recognized in bird feathers today were present long before, in a common ancestor to both ornithomimids and birds. Together with fossils found in China that date back to a similar period, the new discovery promises to clarify how and when such features emerged.”

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