Until about 150 years ago, feathers were thought to be unique to birds. But the discovery of the oldest known bird in the world, Archeopteryx, which was almost a hybrid between a bird and a dinosaur, undoubtedly showed that the winged creatures we know today evolved from the ancient beasts. What this also showed is that some dinosaurs also had feathers.
However, according to paleontologists, this represented a major evolutionary problem.
Maria McNamara, senior lecturer in geology at University College Cork, and Zixiao Yang, PhD student in paleontology at Nanjing University, wrote in the Conversation: “Prehistoric feathers were indistinguishable from those of today’s birds.
“So it wasn’t clear how or when the feathers evolved and into what kind of ancient beasts.”
In 2014, scientists in Siberia discovered a dinosaur that lived in the Jurassic era known as Kulindadromeus.
The dinosaur was feathered and showed that feathers evolved before major dinosaur groups separated.
The two scientists continued: “Clearly, the ability to grow feathers evolved with dinosaurs, although some groups of dinosaurs, especially large sauropsids and armored ankylosaurs and stegosaurs, may have subsequently lost this ability.”
Over the past 30 years, scientists have discovered countless examples of pterosaurs in China.
Pterosaurs were flying reptiles that lived for nearly the entire age of dinosaurs, with them reigning supreme 228 to 66 million years ago.
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“Unfortunately, we have no fossils showing soft tissue conservation from this time period.
“But if we have learned anything from the fossil record of feathers, it is to be expected that more will be discovered.
“Over the years we have had to repeatedly expand our search for fossils with feathers and what ancient feathers looked like.
“Who knows what insights the future fossils will bring.”