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Planet Earth

Did All Dinosaurs Have Feathers?

We know that birds and dinosaurs are related. But whether some or all dinosaurs sported feathers is where things get fuzzy.

By Riley BlackMarch 11, 2020 6:10 PM
pterosaur feathers
An artist’s rendering of a short-tailed pterosaur — feathers and all. (Credit: Yuan Zhang/Nature Ecology & Evolution)


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Feathered dinosaurs are all around us today. Birds — from pigeons to penguins — are dinosaurs. But what about our Mesozoic favorites? 

Dinosaurs closely related to birds were feathered. Velociraptor was much fluffier than Jurassic Park would have you believe. But as paleontologists have dug into the Mesozoic, they've kept finding dinosaurs with protofeathers in different places of the family tree.

As it stands now, fuzzy, featherlike body coverings have been found among pterosaurs — flying reptiles related to dinosaurs — as well as many forms of dinosaur. This suggests that some kind of wispy body covering might have been present in ancestral dinosaurs. And among dinosaurs, protofeathers have not only been found among theropod dinosaurs more or less closely related to birds, but also all the way on the other side of the family tree, among a group called ornithischians. Either dinosaurs inherited protofeathers from their direct ancestors, or fuzzy body coverings evolved multiple times.

Some dinosaur groups haven’t been found with protofeathers yet. The long-necked sauropods and shovel-beaked hadrosaurs don’t seem to show evidence of fluff at the present time. But based upon the spread of fuzzy body coverings among other dinosaurs, it may be that experts just haven’t found the right fossils. It’s conceivable that almost any dinosaur you can think of had protofeathers to one degree or another, just how elephants and hippos still have some hairs despite looking bald from a distance. Dinosaurs were fuzzier than we ever expected. Read more:

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