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Siberian fossil suggests most dinosaurs sported feathers

Press Trust of India  |  New York 

Most dinosaurs may have had feathers, which they used for insulation or attracting mates, suggests the fossil discovery of a new species of a plant-eating dinosaur in Siberia.

Researchers have unearthed hundreds of fossils of a new genus and species of plant-eating dinosaur called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus in Siberia that sports both feathers and scales.

The finding suggests that most dinosaurs had feathers, which they used for insulation or attracting mates, only later relying on the fringes for flight, researchers said.

"Here, for the first time, we have found featherlike structures in a dinosaur [that] is far from the lineage leading to birds," said study co-author Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Belgium.

Since the mid-1990s, paleontologists in have been finding feathered dinosaur skeletons from about 20 different groups, but they all belonged to a single lineage, theropods, which includes Tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptors.

Godefroit and his colleagues found hundreds of skeletons of the same species, from a lineage of plant-eating dinosaurs known as ornithischians, which lived about 160 million years ago during the middle to late Jurassic period, 'Live Science' reported.

Researchers found the fossils buried in the bottom of what appears to have been a large lake.

"It was a small animal, not very impressive. It was about 4.9 feet long; walked on two long, slender legs; and sported very short arms," Godefroit said.

The little dinosaur skeleton was equipped with preserved long filaments resembling downy feathers around its arms and legs. Because the animal couldn't fly, the scientists think these filaments may have served as insulation.

The specimen also had more-complex feathers that it may have used to entice mates, Godefroit said.

Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, agreed that feathers probably existed in the common ancestor of all dinosaurs.

The idea is not a new one, he said; two other fossils of plant-eating dinosaurs found in had simple, filamentlike feathers, but it was debatable whether these were related to bird feathers, or evolved independently.

Now, this new evidence "seals the deal that feathers were also present in plant-eating dinosaurs," Brusatte said.

The study was published in the journal Science.

First Published: Sun, July 27 2014. 15:39 IST