Vicious Velociraptor Dinosaur Was Feathered Fiend
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The vicious little dinosaur Velociraptor was a feathered fiend, according to scientists who found evidence of quills on this well-known meat-eater's forearm.
In research published on Thursday, paleontologists said a forearm bone of Velociraptor found in Mongolia's desolate Gobi desert retained structures, or quill knobs, where a series of feathers were anchored to the bone with ligaments.
No actual fossils of the feathers were found, but the researchers said quill knobs would not exist without feathers. They are present in many bird species alive today.
The researchers said the discovery is a further indication that many carnivorous dinosaurs, and not just the very smallest, possessed feathers. They added that the presence of feathers, which among other qualities provide insulation, was another sign that these may have been warm-blooded animals.
"If a person saw a Velociraptor today, they would say, 'What the heck is that? It's some really weird bird,'" Alan Turner of at the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University in New York, said in a telephone interview.
Scientists have found, particularly at one site in China, fossils of small carnivorous dinosaurs and others preserved with feathers. Some scientists think larger predators, perhaps even Tyrannosaurus rex, may have had feathers or downy "protofeathers," at least as juveniles.
This Velociraptor's remains date back 80 million years to the Cretaceous Period and were uncovered in 1998, the researchers report in the journal Science.
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Scientists believe birds, which first appeared roughly 150 million years ago, evolved from small feathered carnivorous dinosaurs. While Velociraptor was a very close relative of birds, it could not fly. So why did it have feathers?
Feathers may have been useful for display as seen in birds like the peacock, for temperature control, to shield nests or to help maneuver while running, the researchers said.
Velociraptor was portrayed in the 1993 science fiction movie "Jurassic Park" as being much larger than they actually were -- about 6 feet tall rather than the true 3 feet (1 meter) tall. Turner said a Velociraptor was about the size of a large condor, a type of vulture.
"The more that we learn about these animals, the more we find that there is basically no difference between birds and their closely related dinosaur ancestors like Velociraptor," Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History, another researcher in the study, said in a statement.
"Both (groups) have wishbones, brooded their nests, possess hollow bones, and were covered in feathers."
Velociraptor is thought to have been a fast and deadly bipedal hunter, preying on small and medium-sized dinosaurs as well as lizards, mammals and probably any other animal that had the bad fortune of looking like dinner.
Aside from its sharp teeth, its most potent weapon was a large sickle-shaped claw on each foot that scientists think was used to slash open victims much like a switchblade.
Perhaps the most famous fossil of a Velociraptor shows it in the act of attacking a plant-eating dinosaur called Protoceratops. Scientists think the attack occurred on a Mongolian sand dune that collapsed during the fight, preserving the struggle for eternity.
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