Scientists have uncovered dinosaur fossils in China that they say provide the first solid evidence that some tyrannosaurs had feathers, not scaly skin.
Partial skeletons of two primitive tyrannosaurs indicate that these famous dinosaurs that roamed the earth 130 million years ago were covered with feathery coats.
The specimens were uncovered in northeast China. One of them was dug out earlier this year. The discovery appears to confirm theories scientists have been working on since finding the first tyrannosaur feathered skeleton in 1993 in the same region.
Mark Norell is co-author of an article describing the findings in the recent edition of the science journal Nature. "Usually you see these things as big, lumbering, you know scaly sorts of animals now I think we can give them a much softer look."
Mr. Norell, chairman of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, says scientists do not know what color the feathers were, but they believe the feathers grew on young tyrannosaurs to keep them warm, and were shed as the animals grew larger and older.
Dinosaurs are the ancient cousins of modern day birds. But experts say the tyrannosaurs could not fly, and feathers appeared on animals long before birds were able to take flight.
Scientists first began discovering dinosaur fossils with evidence of feathers several years ago. Mr. Norell says these specimens present the first direct evidence that tyrannosaurs, typically known as fierce carnivorous beasts that ate other dinosaurs, had a softer side.
"The really neat thing about this is that feathered tyrannosaurs are really something we had predicted for a long time," he said. "As a scientist you are always making predictions, you are always trying to use the available evidence and data to try to talk about things - and it is great when data is collected or specimens are found that substantiate some of the predictions that you had made."
The American Museum of Natural History in New York will display a series of recent dinosaur fossil discoveries beginning next May.