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2:39pm

Thu April 5, 2012
Animals

A 'Warm And Fuzzy' Dino? (Yes, But Mind The Teeth)

Thirty feet long and weighing in at around 3,000 pounds, Yutyrannus huali goes by the nickname "beautiful feathered tyrant." Yutyrannus earned the name "tyrant" because it casually ripped its prey to pieces. But it was also a snappy dresser: The huge predator was covered in downy feathers.

"Cuddly" and "dinosaur" may not seem like they belong in the same sentence — the beast was a close cousin of T rex, not quite as big but certainly able and happy to devour anything it wanted to — but the fossil skeletons of three of these animals were indeed feathery.

The new-to-science dinosaurs amazed paleontologist Corwin Sullivan when he first saw them. Their feathers were primitive, more like filaments, and about 7 inches long.

"The most plausible explanation, I think, is that most or perhaps virtually all of the body was covered," Sullivan says.

Back in the day — about 125 million years ago — there were other feathered dinosaurs, but they were the size of turkeys. Yutyrannus was no turkey.

Why feathers? A flying Tyrannosauroid would no doubt have been awesomely terrifying. But Yutyrannus didn't fly. Sullivan and his colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences suspect the feathers kept the animal warm. It was cooler during that period than in the days of T rex, who lived tens of millions of years later.

There's no indication what color the feathers were, but in the scientists' research paper, published in the journal Nature, an artist's rendition (seen above) shows a sort of plume along the crest of the head — a kind of punk look. The rest of the body is more of a '60s-style shag rug.

"They would have looked like hair or bristles or the downy feathers on a chick," Sullivan says. "A bit like shaggy monsters."

Like a warm and fuzzy Tyrannosaurus? "Well, lots of predators are warm and fuzzy in a sense," Sullivan says. "Think of a grizzly bear or something."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now from China, we introduce Yutyrannus huali, 30 feet long, weighing in at a ton and a half. This dinosaur goes by the nickname Beautiful Feathered Tyrant. Is that what his friends call him? Yutyrannus earned the name tyrant because it was huge and ripped its prey to pieces. That'll do it. But it was also a snappy dresser, covered in downy feathers.

NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on a new cuddly carnivore.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: I know, cuddly and dinosaur may not seem like they belong in the same sentence. And this beast was a close cousin of T rex, not quite as big but certainly able to devour anything it wanted to. But the fossil skeletons of three of these animals were indeed feathery.

They are new to science and they amazed the paleontologist Corwin Sullivan when he first saw them. Their feathers were primitive, more like filaments, and about seven inches long. There were three dinosaurs and they found patches of feathers on different of their bodies.

DR. CORWIN SULLIVAN: The most plausible explanation, I think, is that most or perhaps virtually all of the body was covered.

JOYCE: Back in the day - that would be about 125 million years ago - there were other feathered dinosaurs, but they were the size of turkeys. Yutyrannus was no turkey.

Why feathers? A flying Tyrannosauroid would no doubt have been awesomely terrifying. But no, Sullivan and his colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences suspect the feathers kept the animal warm. It was cooler during that period than in the days of T rex.

There's no indication what color the feathers were, but in the scientists' research paper in the journal Nature, an artist's rendition shows a sort of plume along the crest of the head - a kind of punk look. The rest of the body is more of a '60s-style shag rug.

SULLIVAN: They would have looked like hair or bristles or the downy feathers on a chick- a bit like shaggy monsters.

JOYCE: I'm just trying to imagine a sort of a warm and fuzzy Tyrannosaurus.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: Well, lots of predators are warm and fuzzy in a sense, you know. I mean if you think of a grizzly bear or something.

JOYCE: Yeah, sure. You just want to reach out and pet one don't you? Steven Spielberg, are you listening to this?

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Call for Mr. Spielberg. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.