Saturday, September 17, 2011

Feathers in amber: birds and dinosaurs

Amber cache reveals feathered dinosaurs, birds shared habitat

The Canadian Press: An ancient deposit of amber from southern Alberta has revealed that birds with feathers not that different from their modern descendants shared habitat with dinosaurs still sporting the most primitive of plumages.

'We've got two ends of the evolutionary-developmental model co-occuring,' said University of Alberta paleontolgist Ryan McKellar, co-author of a paper on the Medicine Hat amber deposit in the journal Science... The amber deposit is from the last days of the dinosaurs [the Cretaceous period] between 78 and 79 million years ago.

Scientists have long known that some dinosaurs had simple feathers. Most of the evidence for that comes from fossils discovered in China. But those proto-feathers have been crushed into a thin film by the weight of millennia. In Alberta, however, the tiny filaments from both dinosaur and bird feathers... are so well-preserved that researchers can even guess what colour they were.

More images here:
Wired Science: 'These simple feathers clearly had nothing to do with flight, and probably had everything to do with thermal regulation. They were essentially a feather homologue of fur,' said paleontologist Alex Wolfe of the University of Alberta, a co-author of the new study.
Image source here.