• Rose Smith

Article: Did Dinosaurs Actually Have Feathers?

Photo Source: Flickr

Pictured Above: Dilong Paradoxus, a close relative of the T. Rex

When we think of dinosaurs, especially in the scope of modern media, we tend to think of them as these vast, scaly creatures. From properties such as Jurassic Park to The Land Before Time, dinosaurs are conceived to look similar to lizards. However, in recent times, evidence has been mounting for the idea that dinosaurs might actually be more feathery than you might imagine.

While the largest tranche of evidence for feathered dinosaurs came out in the 1990s, there were only a couple of musings that dinosaurs could have been closer to birds than reptiles. In the mid-1800s, Reverend Edward Hitchcock, an American geologist, and Thomas Huxley, an English biologist, both independently noted that the prints of dinosaurs seemed very bird-like, but the idea didn’t catch on (National Geographic). In 1964, John Ostrom, theorized that the dinosaur fossil he was studying was perhaps warm blooded (All About Birds). In the 1990s, scientists discovered even more fossil evidence in China and Mongolia that perhaps dinosaurs were actually feathered (Britannica). By 2011, some studies even theorized that all dinosaurs had some kind of feathers on their bodies although not on every square inch of their bodies (like how some mammals have hair or fur all over their bodies, and some have more spare amounts of hair).

While paleontologists have begun to agree that at least some dinosaurs were actually feathered, the extent and amount are still up for active debate. For instance, there is a chance that dinosaurs weren’t always feathered (Britannica). Scientists currently believe that the dinosaurs started to appear around 245 million years ago, but the oldest fossils with feathered dinosaurs were found to be 180 million years old. As said by Professor Paul Barrett, a dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom, “We have very little evidence of feathers in early meat-eating dinosaurs. The further down the theropod dinosaur family tree we go, the evidence for feathers gets thinner and thinner” (Natural History Museum). This could mean a couple of things. Perhaps it is true that dinosaurs developed feathers only after a certain point, or the way that dinosaurs were preserved was not conducive to preserving feathers. Researchers are still actively studying and finding new things through new fossil discoveries, so our understanding of dinosaurs will likely evolve with time.

While the mainstream understanding of dinosaurs conjures up images of imposing, scaly reptiles, fossil evidence seems to be pointing to the contrary. In fact, the word dinosaur is derived from the Greek words deinos and sauros, meaning ‘terrible’ and ‘lizard’ respectively. While some scientists in the past were onto the bird-like qualities of some fossil evidence, it wasn’t until the late twentieth century that we discovered harder evidence of feathers. While there is some disagreement over whether every dinosaur had feathers, or just a select kind, it is still a momentous discovery to find that at least some of them did. I suppose the next question will have to be: Will the newest Jurassic Park movie include a feathery T. Rex?

Rose Smith is the blog editor of Twenty-two Twenty-eight. When she isn’t writing about the world around her, she is often found listening to music, watching movies, and going on walks with her dogs.

You can find her on Instagram here and on Twitter here.