A fossil dinosaur has been unearthed that was
wrapped from head to tail in feathers.
It will add to the debate about birds being
descended from dinosaurs and suggests that the evolution of feathers
predates the development of flight.
The 130 million-year-old Dromaeosaur
specimen provides the best evidence yet that some dinosaurs
developed primitive feathers - not for flight but probably to keep
warm. The creature was a small predator closely related to the
Velociraptor which starred in the film Jurassic Park.
Like Velociraptor they had a sickle-like
claw on the middle toe, sharp teeth, and a bone structure similar to
that of modern birds.
The fossil was unearthed last spring by farmers
digging in north-eastern China's Liaoning Province. It was entombed
in two slabs of fine-grained rock.
When the slabs were separated they saw a fossil
that resembles a large duck with a long tail and an oversized head.
The fine-grained rock allowed minute details to be preserved showing
that the creature's head and tail were covered with downy fibres,
while other parts of the body seemed to have tufts or sprays of
filaments resembling primitive feathers.
The arms also seemed to be adorned with branched
structures similar to the barbs of modern bird feathers.
Dr Mark Norell, from the American Museum of Natural
History, New York, said: "This fossil radically modifies our vision
of these extinct animals. It shows us that advanced theropod
(two-legged) dinosaurs may have looked more like weird birds than