Did all dinosaurs have feathers?

A new species of feathered dinosaur has been discovered – and it’s not closely related to birds, indicating that feathers may have been far more prevalent amongst dinosaurs than previously believed.

Discovered in southern Germany, Sciurumimus albersdoerferi was a theropod, a type of bipedal, mostly carnivorous dinosaur, and lived about 150 million years ago.

“Under ultraviolet light, remains of the skin and feathers show up as luminous patches around the skeleton,” says Helmut Tischlinger of the Jura Museum Eichstatt.

Over the last few years, scientists have discovered that many extinct theropods had feathers. But this feathering has only been found in theropods that are classified as coelurosaurs, a diverse group including animals like T. rex and birds.

Sciurumimus – a megalosaur, not a coelurosaur – is the first exception to this rule. And, says the team, it sits deep within the evolutionary tree of theropods, meaning that the species that stem from Sciurumimus are likely to have similar characteristics.

The fossil, which is of a baby Sciurumimus, shows the remains of a filament-like plumage, indicating that the whole body was covered with feathers. It has a bushy tail, rather like that of a squirrel.

“Everything we find these days shows just how deep in the family tree many characteristics of modern birds go, and just how bird-like these animals were,” says Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History.

“At this point it will surprise no one if feather-like structures were present in the ancestors of all dinosaurs.”