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EARLY EARTH
Feathered dinosaurs were extra fluffy, new research shows
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Nov 30, 2017


New analysis of the remains of a bird-like dinosaur called Anchiornis suggests feathered dinosaurs were fluffier than researchers thought.

Modern birds are the evolutionary offspring of a group of feathered theropod dinosaurs. Together they comprise the group known as paravians -- a group that included the famed Velociraptor.

The fossilized remains of an Anchiornis specimen offered scientists at the University of Bristol in England the opportunity to study the dinosaur's feathers in great detail. Because some of the specimen's features had become separated from its body prior to burial and fossilization, researchers were able to closely study their structure.

The new analysis revealed long, flexible barbs protruding from short quills, forming two vanes. The feathers appeared like a fluffy fork-tuner, or a large v-shape.

The feathers in question are known as contour feathers, as they covered the dinosaur's body. Paravian dinosaurs also boasted more decorative bird-like feathers.

Contour feathers offered warmth and protection and, as the latest research showed, they also offered their wearers a fluffy appearance.

The findings -- detailed this week in the journal Paleontology -- allowed paleoartists to update their imagery of feathered dinosaurs to reflect the fluffier appearance of Anchiornis and other paravians.

"Paleoart is a weird blend of strict anatomical drawing, wildlife art, and speculative biology. The goal is to depict extinct animals and plants as accurately as possible given the available data and knowledge of the subject's closest living relatives," paleoartist Rebecca Gelernter said in a news release. "As a result of this study and other recent work, this is now possible to an unprecedented degree for Anchiornis. It's easy to see it as a living animal with complex behaviors, not just a flattened fossil."

In addition to inspiring new illustrations, the research also revealed the challenges faced by early paravians as they attempted flight.

The contour feathers of Anchiornis were so fluffy they likely caused too much drag to allow the dinosaur to achieve liftoff. However, Anchiornis' longer bird-like feathers on its four wings -- one for each limb, two arms and two legs -- likely allowed the dinosaur to glide when jumping from trees and cliffs.

EARLY EARTH
Rise in oxygen levels links to ancient explosion of life, researchers find
St. Louis MO (SPX) Nov 23, 2017
Oxygen has provided a breath of fresh air to the study of the Earth's evolution some 400-plus million years ago. A team of researchers, including a faculty member and postdoctoral fellow from Washington University in St. Louis, found that oxygen levels appear to increase at about the same time as a three-fold increase in biodiversity during the Ordovician Period, between 445 and 485 millio ... read more

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