The largest feathered dinosaur ever discovered has been unearthed in China, measuring more than 30 feet in length and weighing in at more than 3,000 pounds. Its length would make it the largest known feathered animal in history.
The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reports that the "Yutyrannus huali" is 40 times heavier than any other feathered dinosaur previously discovered.
"Yutyrannus dramatically increases the size range of dinosaurs for which we have definite evidence of feathers," Xing Xu, study researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said in a statement. "It's possible that feathers were much more widespread, at least among the meat-eating dinosaurs, than most scientists would have guessed even a few years ago."
The Yutyrannus is believed to be a direct descendent of the T-Rex. The Tyrannosauroidea started off as smaller, feathered dinosaurs, eventually evolving into the larger, scaled beasts depicted in movies and television. But the CSM says this finding indicated the feathered Yutyrannus existed as large predators much earlier than earlier evidence suggested.
And despite their likely ferocious appearance, the Yutyrannus' feathers had the consistency of a warm blanket. "The feathers of Yutyrannus were simple filaments," Xu said. "They were more like the fuzzy down of a modern baby chick than the stiff plumes of an adult bird."
The findings, originally published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggest that the feathers were used to keep the dinosaur warm. Temperatures in the Early Cretaceous period were far cooler than in the T-Rex's prime. Yutyrannus lived about 125 million years ago and its thick coat of feathers likely covered nearly its entire body.
"The idea that primitive feathers could have been for insulation rather than flight has been around for a long time," paleontologist and fellow study researcher Corwin Sullivan said in a statement. "However, large-bodied animals typically can retain heat quite easily, and actually have more of a potential problem with overheating. That makes Yutyrannus, which is large and downright shaggy, a bit of a surprise."
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