Another Good Reason to be Phobic About Birds – Velociraptor Feathers

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Velociraptors had feathers.

I told you birds were scary.

They are now classified as living dinosaurs.

Now – go make fun of my bird phobia!

“...The quill knobs also suggest that Velociraptor’s feathers had a distinctly modern style. They probably looked much like those of today’s birds, rather than the hair-like proto-feathers of its ancestors.

Several well preserved Velociraptor skeletons have already been found but palaeontologists have never found the outlines of feathers that typifies the fossils of species like Archaeopteryx and Microraptor. Turner and co aren’t surprised – these outlines have only ever been found in the smallest of dinosaurs.

The most beautiful feathered fossils hail from special sites called lagerstätten, a kind of universal graveyard where an amazing diversity of prehistoric species is preserved. At these places, the specific mixture of sediment and low oxygen levels delays the process of decay long enough for soft body parts, like feathers, to become preserved. But this only works for small dinosaurs, smaller still than Velociraptor.

Feathers allow birds to fly and to keep themselves warm. But Velociraptor’s forearm plumage probably fulfilled neither function. For its weight, its forearms were too small to provide powered flight, and feathers there wouldn’t have helped the animal to retain much heat.

Instead, Turner suggest that Velociraptor could have used its feathers to display to mates or rivals, to shield their nests from the cold, or to manoeuvre while running .

Its smaller ancestors probably did use their feathers for flight (or at the very least, efficient gliding), and Velociraptor kept them but co-opted them for other purposes. To their ancestors, Velociraptor and its kin would have been like prehistoric ostriches, having abandoned flying for a running life.

Feathers can join the list of bird features shared by dromaeosaurids, including wishbones, nest brooding and hollow bones. Discoveries like these further blur the distinction between this dinosaur lineage and their modern descendants.

Birds are now all classified as living dinosaurs, but some palaeontologists argue that there is a case for classifying dromaeosaurs as birds. As Norell himself says, “If animals like Velociraptor were alive today our first impression would be that they were just very unusual looking birds.”…”

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