Paleontologists have uncovered the oldest fossil found to date of a meat-eating dinosaur with feathers. The 150-million-year-old Sciurumimus albersdoerferi, named for its squirrel-like tail, was a megalosaur with a large skull, short hind limbs, and feathers covering the middle of its body, back, and tail. Oliver Rauhut, a paleontologist at the Bavarian State Collections of Paleontology and Geology in Germany, worked with researchers analyzing the fossil unearthed in a limestone quarry in southeastern Germany. Sciurumimus’ remains were so exquisitely preserved that the pattern of its feathers was almost undeniable; a rare occurrence in dinosaurs this old. Megalosaurs are large, two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs. Prior to this discovery, scientists did not think that megalosaurs ever had feathers and that feathers on meat-eating dinosaurs only existed later in the dinosaur lineage, on dinos called coelurosaurs. Coelurosauria is a subgroup that included dinosaurs very similar to birds: small bodies, long arms, hinged ankles, and feathers. Scientists believe that birds evolved from coelurosaurs. Sciurumimus, not being a close relative of coelurosaurs, is causing scientists to question the theory that early meat-eaters were not feathered. Feathers start cropping up in the geologic record in the Cretaceous and late Jurassic periods, but perhaps we don’t have earlier records because feathers are not often well-preserved. However, there are other, non-meat-eating dinosaur lineages with feathers, suggesting that perhaps a common ancestor of all dinosaur lineages had feathers, and they were later lost in some branches.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings if the National Academy of Sciences .
Discover more about this feathered dinosaur at National Geographic Daily News.
Read more about coelurosaurs at The Australian Museum website.