Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dinosaurs shook tail feathers

EDMONTON—A University of Alberta scientist has found that some dinosaurs could really shake a tail feather.
Scott Persons said that far from being the lumbering, cold-blooded beasts of Hollywood myth, at least one species of the long-extinct animals had strong, flexible tails tipped with large fans of feathers “built for flaunting.”

“Don’t think of a trip back to the Mesozoic like a saunter through a reptile house,” noted Persons.
“Think of it as a trip to Las Vegas because there would be tail-feather fans on show girls for you.”
Persons’ newly-published paper is about Oviraptors—a species of flightless dinosaur distantly related to T. Rex with a vegetarian diet, crested heads, and birdlike beaks.
They ranged in size from about that of a modern turkey to eight metres long, and lived between 145 and 66 million years ago.
Studying fossils from recent finds in Mongolia, Persons realized all his Oviraptors would have had long, nimble tails with attachments for powerful muscles to swish them back and forth.
He also found the tails ended in pieces of solid bone called pygostyles—features found in only one other kind of animal: modern birds.
“They serve as the anchor point for broad tail-feather fans.”
Although no fossilized feathers were found in the deposits Persons studied, he pointed out they have been found with other, earlier Oviraptors—complete with colour banding.
Combining the discovery of pygostyles with previous evidence of Oviraptor feathers led him to his conclusion.
“You stick a feather fan on the end of a highly-dextrous and muscular tail and you’ve got what I think is a tail built for flaunting, that could shake a tail feather side to side, raise it up, strike a pose,” Persons noted.
“Probably to an extent that’s greater than a modern-day peacock or a turkey.”
Persons can’t yet say if all Oviraptors boasted tail feathers. Pygostyles are delicate and easily destroyed, leaving open the question of how wide a fan a creature eight metres long could have spread.
Discoveries such as this allow scientists to draw conclusions both about what dinosaurs looked like and how they may have behaved, Persons said.
“This is an instance where how they look is probably very much related to how they behaved,” he remarked.

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