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Velociraptor Had Feathers

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Scientists found evidence of six quill knobs--locations where feathers are anchored to bone--on the forearm of a Velociraptor fossil
Credit: M. Ellison/AMNH

 

A new look at some old bones have shown that Velociraptor, the dinosaur made famous in the movie Jurassic Park, had feathers. A paper describing the discovery, made by paleontologists at the American Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum of Natural History, appears in the September 21 issue of the journal Science.

 

Scientists have known for years that many dinosaurs had feathers. Now the presence of feathers has been documented in Velociraptor, one of the most iconic of dinosaurs and a close relative of birds.

 

The fossil specimen the group examined was a Velociraptor forearm unearthed in Mongolia in 1998. They found on it clear indications of quill knobsā€œplaces where the quills of secondary feathers, the flight or wing feathers of modern birds, were anchored to the bone with ligaments. Quill knobs are also found in many living bird species and are most evident in birds that are strong flyers. Those that primarily soar or that have lost the ability to fly entirely, however, were shown in the study to typically lack signs of quill knobs.

 

"A lack of quill knobs does not necessarily mean that a dinosaur did not have feathers," said Alan Turner, lead author on the study and a graduate student of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and at Columbia University in New York. "Finding quill knobs on Velociraptor, though, means that it definitely had feathers. This is something we'd long suspected, but no one had been able to prove."

 

Previous signs of feathers on dinosaurs had been restricted to fossils found in a particular kind of lake sediment that favored preservation of small-bodied animals.

 

The Velociraptor in the current study stood about three feet tall, was about five feet long, and weighed about 30 pounds. Combined with its relatively short forelimbs compared to a modern bird, this indicated it lacked volant, or flight, abilities. The authors suggest that perhaps an ancestor of Velociraptor lost the ability to fly, but retained its feathers. In Velociraptor, the feathers may have been useful for display, to shield nests, for temperature control, or to help it maneuver while running.

 

"The more 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," said Mark Norell, Curator in the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and coauthor on the study. "Both have wishbones, brooded their nests, possess hollow bones, and were covered in feathers. If animals like Velociraptor were alive today our first impression would be that they were just very unusual looking birds."

 

The research team also included Peter Makovicky from the Field Museum in Chicago. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Museum of Natural History.

 

American Museum of Natural History

 

The American Museum of Natural History is one of the world's preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. Since its founding in 1869, the Museum has advanced its global mission to explore and interpret human cultures and the natural world through a wide-reaching program of scientific research, education, and exhibitions. The Museum accomplishes this ambitious goal through its extensive facilities and resources. The institution houses 45 permanent exhibition halls, state-of-the-art research laboratories, one of the largest natural history libraries in the Western Hemisphere, and a permanent collection of more than 30 million specimens and cultural artifacts. With a scientific staff of more than 200, the Museum supports research divisions in Anthropology, Paleontology, Invertebrate and Vertebrate Zoology, and the Physical Sciences. The spectacular Frederick Phineas & Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space, which opened in February 2000, features the rebuilt and rejuvenated Hayden Planetarium and striking exhibits about the nature of the universe and our planet. Home for more than three decades to the Museum's celebrated 94-foot-long blue whale model, the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life reopened in May 2003, transformed through current scientific research and cutting-edge exhibitry into a fully immersive oceanic environment. The Museum, which was rated number one in New York City in the Zagat Survey's first-ever U.S. Family Travel Guide, as well as the number three most popular U.S. destination, shares its treasures and discoveries with millions of on-site visitors from around the globe each year. In addition, the Museum's Web site, www.amnh.org, extends its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond the Museum's walls.

 

Media Inquiries: Department of Communications, 212-769-5800

 

 

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