The 'fluffy' dinosaur that struggled to fly: 160 million-year-old fossils reveal a cute crow-sized creature with four wings and a fuzzy appearance

  • Scientists have analysed the fossilised remains of an Anchiornis dinosaur
  • Its feathers were found to have a short quill with long, flexible barbs
  • These feathers would have given Anchiornis a fluffy appearance
  • Scientists believe?these feathers may have helped the animal to control its temperature and repel water

It looks like a rather cute fluffy toy.

But, in fact, this is an artist’s impression of a dinosaur that lived 160 million years ago.

Latest research suggests the crow-sized dinosaur Anchiornis had feathers on its four wings that fluffed up rather than lying flat like those of modern birds.

The primitive feathers may have actually hampered in its early attempts at flight.

They would probably have caused drag when the creature tried to glide between trees, say scientists.

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The idea of a dinosaur with a plume of fluffy feathers may sound like a character concocted by Dr Seuss for one of his children's books. But such a species existed in reality in the form of an Anchiornis dinosaur, according to a new study (artist's impression pictured)

The idea of a dinosaur with a plume of fluffy feathers may sound like a character concocted by Dr Seuss for one of his children's books. But such a species existed in reality in the form of an Anchiornis dinosaur, according to a new study (artist's impression pictured)

FLUFFY DINOSAUR

Anchiornis is a species of bird-like dinosaur that lived around 160 million years ago.?

The feathers around the body, known as contour feathers, revealed a newly-described primitive feather form, consisting of a short quill with long, flexible barbs at low angles.

These feathers would have given Anchiornis a fluffy appearance, relative to the streamlined bodies of modern flying birds.

The researchers believe that these fluffy feathers may have helped the animal to control its temperature and repel water.

The fluffy feathers lacked the aerodynamic, asymmetrical vanes of modern flight feathers, and would have hindered the ability to form a lift surface.

To compensate for this, Anchiornis packed multiple rows of long feathers into the wing, unlike modern birds where the wing surface is formed of a single row of feathers.

Bizarrely, Anchiornis had four wings with long feathers on the legs, arms and tail.

The researchers believe that this increase in surface area likely allowed for gliding before the evolution of powered flight.

Researchers from the University of Bristol have examined the fossilised remains of a crow-sized dinosaur called Anchiornis found in museums in China and Germany.?

The feathers around the body, known as contour feathers, revealed a newly-described primitive feather form, consisting of a short quill with long, flexible barbs at low angles.

These feathers would have given Anchiornis a fluffy appearance, relative to the streamlined bodies of modern flying birds.

The researchers believe that these fluffy feathers may have helped the animal to control its temperature and repel water.

The fluffy feathers lacked the aerodynamic, asymmetrical vanes of modern flight feathers, and would have hindered the ability to form a lift surface.

To compensate for this, Anchiornis packed multiple rows of long feathers into the wing, unlike modern birds where the wing surface is formed of a single row of feathers.

Bizarrely, Anchiornis had four wings with long feathers on the legs, arms and tail.

The researchers believe that this increase in surface area likely allowed for gliding before the evolution of powered flight.

Evan Saitta, one of the authors of the study, said: 'The novel aspects of the wing and contour feathers, as well as fully-feathered hands and feet, are added to the depiction.

'Most provocatively, Anchiornis is presented in this artwork climbing in the manner of hoatzin chicks, the only living bird whose juveniles retain a relic of their dinosaurian past, a functional claw.

'This contrasts much previous art that places paravians perched on top of branches like modern birds.

'However, such perching is unlikely given the lack of a reversed toe as in modern perching birds and climbing is consistent with the well-developed arms and claws in paravians.

Researchers examined the fossilised remains of a crow-sized dinosaur called Anchiornis. The feathers around the body, known as contour feathers, revealed a newly-described primitive feather form, consisting of a short quill with long, flexible barbs at low angles

Researchers examined the fossilised remains of a crow-sized dinosaur called Anchiornis. The feathers around the body, known as contour feathers, revealed a newly-described primitive feather form, consisting of a short quill with long, flexible barbs at low angles

'Overall, our study provides some new insight into the appearance of dinosaurs, their behavior and physiology, and the evolution of feathers, birds, and powered flight.'

The researchers believe their new description could be potentially the most accurate depiction of any dinosaur species to date.

Ms Rebecca Gelernter, one of the authors of the study, said: 'As a result of this study and other recent work, this is now possible to an unprecedented degree for Anchiornis.?

ANCESTOR TO MODERN BIRDS

The discovery of two 130-million-year-old fossils are helping experts plug gaps in the evolutionary history of modern birds.

The fossilised wading birds, found in the Hebei province of northeastern China, had fan-shaped tail feathers and fused bones at the tips of its wings similar to birds alive today.

The discovery of two 130-million-year-old fossils are helping experts plug gaps in the evolutionary history of modern birds

The discovery of two 130-million-year-old fossils are helping experts plug gaps in the evolutionary history of modern birds

Named Archaeornithura meemannae, the pair predate the earliest record of the ornithuromorpha family by at least five million years.

The creatures had a small projection along the edge of their wings - a feature seen in modern birds which help them manouevre during flight - as well as long, featherless legs suggesting they belonged to a wading species.?

'It's easy to see it as a living animal with complex behaviours, not just a flattened fossil.

'It's really exciting to be able to work with the scientists at the forefront of these discoveries, and to show others what we believe these fluffy, toothy almost-birds looked like as they went about their Jurassic business.'??

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