Thursday, October 25, 2012
Royal Tyrrell Museum, University of Calgary researchers discover first feathered dinosaur specimens in North America
The findings of palaeontologists François Therrien, curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, and Darla Zelenitsky, assistant professor at the University of Calgary, will be published in Science, the prestigious journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on Friday, October 26.
Ornithomimids (Greek for “bird-mimic lizards”) are ostrich-like dinosaurs that have been pictured as hairless, fleet-footed animals. The research to be published in Science reveals that they actually had feathers and wings. The researchers found evidence of feathers preserved with a juvenile and two adult skeletons of Ornithomimus, a species in the ornithomimid family. The discovery, the first to establish the existence of feathers in ornithomimids, suggests that all ostrich-like dinosaurs had feathers.
The specimens also reveal that while Ornithomimus maintained a base of down-like feathers throughout its lifetime, older individuals developed larger feathers on their arms, producing wing-like structures. The research suggests that, because the dinosaurs were too big to fly, the wing-like plumage may have been used for reproductive behaviours such as mating display or egg brooding. While fossilized dinosaur feathers alone have been discovered in Alberta previously, these are the first actual dinosaur skeletons with feather impressions found in the Western Hemisphere. Until now, feathered skeletons have been recovered almost exclusively from fine-grained rocks in China and Germany.
The Alberta specimens show that feathered dinosaurs were also preserved in sandstone, a rock formed by the deposit of ancient flowing rivers. Because sandstone is the type of rock that most commonly preserves dinosaur skeletons, the Canadian discoveries reveal great new potential for the recovery of feathered dinosaurs worldwide.
The fossils are expected to be on display by November 9 at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is owned and operated by Alberta Culture. For more information on winter hours or for directions, visit www.tyrrellmuseum.com or call 403-823-7707 (dial 310-0000 for toll-free access within Alberta). Visit www.culture.alberta.ca for more information on all of Alberta’s historic sites and museums.