UCC researcher involved in major dinosaur discovery

Friday 25 July 2014 16.53
A colour illustration of the dinosaur - (Pic: Pascal Godfroit)
A colour illustration of the dinosaur - (Pic: Pascal Godfroit)

The first-ever example of a primitive plant-eating dinosaur with feathers and scales has been discovered by a team involving a researcher from UCC.

The succinctly-named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus comes from the Kulinda fossil site in eastern Siberia and its feathers were studied by feathers were studied by Dr Maria McNamara, from UCC, along with colleagues in the UK and France.

Previously only advanced flesh-eating dinosaurs were known to have had feathers so the new find indicates that all dinosaurs could have been feathered.

Kulindadromeus shows scales on its tail and shins, and short bristles on its head and back. 

However, it also has complex, compound feathers on its arms and legs.

Dr McNamara said: "These feathers are really very well preserved.  We can see each filament and how they are joined together at the base, making a compound structure of six or seven filaments, each up to 15 mm long." 

This discovery suggests that feather-like structures were likely widespread in dinosaurs, possibly even in the earliest members of the group.

It is thought feathers probably arose during the Triassic period, more than 220 million years ago, for insulation and signalling, and were only later used for flight. 

Smaller dinosaurs were probably covered in feathers, mostly with colourful patterns, and feathers may have been lost as dinosaurs grew up and became larger.

Kulindadromeus was a small plant-eater, only about one metre long. 

It had long hind legs and short arms, with five strong fingers.  Its snout was short, and its teeth show clear adaptations to plant eating. 

In evolutionary terms, it sits low in the evolutionary tree of ornithischian dinosaurs. 

There are six skulls and several hundred partial skeletons of this new dinosaur at the Kulinda locality.