The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) released an article today describing a feathered predator not closely related to birds.
The 150-million-year-old fossil found in a Bavarian limestone quarry dubbed Sciurumimus albersdoerferi was likely a young megalosaur, a group of large, two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs, National Geographic reported Monday.
The article describes how the baby Sciurumimus fossil, found in the limestone of northern Bavaria, preserves the remains of “a filamentous plumage, indicating the whole body was covered with feathers.” The Sciurimimus albersdoerferi genus name refers to the bushy tail the animal appears to have worn in life and relates to the scientific name of tree squirrels that bear the same characteristic today. The latin “Sciurus” literally means “squirrel-mimic” while “alberdsdoerferi” refers to the private collector who released the specimen for scientific study.
Mark Norell, chair of the Division of Paleontology at the AMNH, describes the fossil as “…a surprising find from the cradle of feathered dinosaur work, the very formation where the first feather dinosaur Archaeopteryx was collected over 150 years ago.” The 150 million year old fossil of Sciurumimus albersdoerferi discovered in southern Germany provides the first feathered theropod dinosaur without avian relatives.
According to the AMNH, “theropods are bipedal, mostly carnivorous dinosaurs.” In the past few years, scientists have discovered feathering in extinct theropods—the feathered coelurosaur group includes T.Rex-esque animals as well as birds. The most recent Sciurumimus discovery, however, is classified as megalosaur, not coelurosaur. Down further on the evolutionary tree than the coelurosaur, the species provides paleontologists with the possibility of finding similar-looking relatives.
Oliver Rauhut of the Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie and the Ludwig Maximilians University, who co-authored the new paper with Norell, says that the latest discovery could create two distinct types of dinosaurs.
“All of the feathered predatory dinosaurs known so far represent close relatives of birds,” said Rauhut. “Sciurumimus is much more basal within the dinosaur family tree and thus indicates that all predatory dinosaurs had feathers.”
“It has been suggested for some time that the lifestyle of predatory dinosaurs changed considerably during their growth,” Rauhut added. “Sciurumimusshows a remarkable difference to adult megalosaurs in the dentition, which clearly indicates that it had a different diet.”
The fossil stands out for more than just its feathers though, the skeleton is the most complete predatory dinosaur yet found in Europe. Scientists say it offers a rare glimpse of young dinosaurs and confirms other hypotheses concerning juvenile theropods.
Another co-author of the paper, Helmut Tischlinger from the Jura Museum in Eichstatt, says the Sciurumimus is not only remarkable because it is feathered, but also because its skeleton—which “represents the most complete predatory dinosaur ever found in Europe”— provides a glimpse of juvenile dinosaurs, confirming many other hypotheses about juvenile features. Particularly, Tischlinger remarks, “It has been suggested for some time that the lifestyle of predatory dinosaurs changed considerably during their growth. Sciurumimus shows a remarkable difference to adult megalosaurs in the dentition, which clearly indicated that it had a different diet.”
Adult megalosaurs, the kind of dinosaur the movies have acquainted us with, were active predators about 20 feet long that weighed upwards of a ton. The juvenile Sciurumimus is small in comparison at about 28 inches long with slender pointed teeth more suitable for insects and other small prey.
“Everything we find these days shows just how deep in the family tree many characteristics of modern birds go, and just how bird-like these animals were. At this point it will surprise no one if feather-like structures were present in the ancestors of all dinosaurs,” Norell said. Perhaps this wouldn’t surprise anyone in the scientific community, but Hollywood may have to rework some their ideas.
The study was financed by the Volkswagen Foundation and the American Museum of Natural History, said scientists.