Thursday, February 09, 2006

Perfectly Preserved Early Tyrannosaurus Rex Fossil Shows Feathers

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Astonishing beautiful mud casts of the earliest T-rex fossils have been uncovered in China. It clearly shows the pattern and imprint of feathers on the 3.6' long critter. This is probably why Chickadees are so vain: they know their pedigree.

From the National Geographic:
The primitive tyrannosaurs were discovered together. They appeared to have become fatally trapped in a prehistoric mud pit, according to Xing Xu, professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China. The carnivores were possibly lured to their deaths by other mud-stricken animals, which also left behind fossil remains.

"This is an unbelievable discovery with tremendous new information on the evolution of the tyrannosaurs," Xu said.

Xu and fellow dino experts describe the new species, named Guanlong wucaii, in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature.
The evolution of feathering goes further and further back in time. Let's review what happened on this planet, 250+ million years ago.

The Great Permian Extinction Happened
For terrestrial vertebrates during the Late Permian, the combination of a drop in atmospheric oxygen plus climate warming would have induced hypoxic stress and consequently compressed altitudinal ranges to near sea level. Our simulations suggest that the magnitude of altitudinal compression would have forced extinctions by reducing habitat diversity, fragmenting and isolating populations, and inducing a species-area effect. It also might have delayed ecosystem recovery after the mass extinction.
So, whatever small area the proto-T-Rex lived in, the situation was such, they quickly evolved from their pre-Permian collapse scales became lacy and fine in order to hold in heat. This is because thin oxygen altitudes are very cold. This thinner the oxygen, the colder it gets, faster, in the shade and the hotter the sun when it is out.

A fine example is the moon, you freeze totally in the dark and roast totally in the sun, there being no atmosphere at all! So probably all proto-dinosaurs had some degree of feathering and probably slept in groups at night, to keep warm. This meant, unlike many reptiles, they tend more to social life, most likely, mother sleeping with babies. Even modern crocodiles coddle their babies so I would bet, the Permian extinction killed off any carelessly cared for, land dwelling babies.

Mammals did rather well compared to many other creatures in this tragedy except the survivors were trapped, probably far inland, in deep valleys where they couldn't leave until much later than the dinosaurs who were much smaller and hunted by hairy mammals during the wet Permian, they now, freed of their tormentors and equipped with brand new, shiny feathers, when the two met again, millions of years later when the very small mammals, reduced in size due to the slim pickings of limited environment, ventured forth only to be greeted by hunters four times their size, the feathers helped the dinosaurs to not only hunt faster but now, being warm blooded, they were able to put more energy into the hunt.

I have raised turkeys who are great models for T-rexes. They have long necks that are mostly fine skin that change color according to mood. Mostly, it is chalk blue and pink. But when the male gets angry, it flushes red due to the rush of blood. The head goes higher and higher and the chest puffs up so he can thrum it like a drum, whoom, whoom! Then, sucking in a lungful, he lets loose with an angry gobble. They literally snort with rage and we used to annoy our turkeys, when young, by whapping on their breasts to make the drum roll.

When they annoyed me, I would put my hand on their head and shove them down. As soon as the head is forced down, the turkey surrenders and goes "whimp, whimp, whimp".

I am certain early T-Rexes did all this, too. Even little Chickadees sit very erect and raise their tiny feather cap and scold much bigger animals, a dim memory of who was boss still running in their genes. Turkeys are hunter/stalkers. They stride across the field, head up, looking around, looking down, seeking prey. If they spot a mouse, they will rush it and stab at it with their beaks and if they corner a mouse, use the powerful feet to pin it down to kill it. They will seize snakes and play tug rope with it until it is skinned and dead. If the snake is big, the turkey toms will surround it and take turns jumping on it, a circle stomp that is amazing to watch.

Once, my turkey tribe caught a huge toad and ran up and down our mountain for an hour, fighting over it. Finally, the biggest turkey started to jam it down the throat and it got stuck so he ran up to me guggling and I had to pull out the poor, dead toad.

This is why toads and other animals puff up. To thwart the T-Rexes of the Avian Kingdom.
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