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Dinosaurs Just Get Fluffier by the Day

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 29, 2017

Anchiornis huxleyi revised (Illustration: Rebecca Gelernter)

In my book House of Lost Worlds, I wrote about how a team of researchers used trace chemical elements in a fossil to create the first representation of a primitive dinosaur in its actual colors.

Now one of those researchers, Jakob Vinther at the University of Bristol, has refined that picture based on the discovery of a “primitive feather form consisting of a short quill with long, independent, flexible barbs erupting from the quill at low angles.”

That would have had the effect of making Anchiornis, a crow-size dinosaur, fluffier than modern flying birds, “whose feathers have tightly-zipped vanes forming continuous surfaces,” according to a University of Bristol press release. “Anchiornis‘s unzipped feathers might have affected the animal’s ability to control its temperature and repel water …”

The newly described quills might also have increased drag and inhibited the ability of Anchiornis to form a suitable surface for lift. To compensate, the species “packed multiple rows of long feathers into the wing, unlike modern birds.” Anchiornis and other para-avians also had two sets of wings.

Illustrator Rebecca Gelernter of nearbirdstudios.com put the re-imagined Anchiornis on paper, including a revised position, not perched on top of a tree, but “climbing in the manner of hoatzin chicks, the only living bird whose juveniles retain a relic of their dinosaurian past, a functional claw.”

Anchiornis huxleyi in a prior representation (Illustration: Michael DiGiorgio)

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