The dinosaur shown in this new fossil, which is so great it almost looks fake, is called Sciurumimus albersdoerferi — Sciurumimus means “squirrel mimic.” That’s undoubtedly because of its lush, bushy tail, perfectly preserved in fine-grained sediment. But that’s not a furry squirrel tail you’re looking at; it’s all feathers, and the discovery of S. albersdoerferi suggests that most dinosaurs had them. The smooth, scaly dinosaurs you remember from your childhood pajamas are a myth.
This isn’t the first feathery dinosaur to be discovered, though most fossils don’t have this level of near-photographic fidelity. But the others have been from relatively late dinosaurs, which could have been a feathery shootoff from the scaly main branch. This squirrelly new guy is “significantly more basal in the evolutionary tree of theropods,” so if he had feathers, that makes it more likely that feathers were the norm.
Artists’ renditions of feathery dinosaurs tend to be kind of creepy, so it may take a while for new pajamas to catch up to reality (leaving room for some industrious entrepreneur to start a cottage industry gluing feather boas to plastic toys and marketing them as scientifically accurate models that will get kids into Harvard). But S. albersdoerferi’s fat squirrel tail makes it actually kind of cute, even if it is a skeleton lizard. And now that we know most dinos had feathers, it’ll be harder for you to forget that birds are basically tiny T-rexes — a fact that makes watching seagulls at the beach a completely new experience.
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