Scientists Just Cracked the Mystery of Dinosaur Feathers

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Which came first: the dinosaur or the feather?

You may have heard that chickens evolved from dinosaurs, and that some dinosaurs had feathers (if not ... surprise!). But scientists may have made a new discovery: Feathers came before dinosaurs.

Here's the deal. A team of researchers recently examined two pterosaurs found in China. Pterosaurs were flying creatures that shared a common ancestor with dinosaurs. Some were as tall as giraffes.

Scientists had always assumed pterosaurs had no feathers. But to their shock, they found evidence for ... you guessed it ... feathers. This was the first time anyone had ever found feathers on something other than a bird or dinosaur.

pterosaurs and dinosaurs fossil


“When I first saw these specimens and the branching I didn’t believe it,” said Maria McNamara, a biologist at the University College Cork in Ireland who analyzed the fossils.

So if pterosaurs had feathers, and dinosaurs had feathers, that means their common ancestor likely also had feathers. Which means there was a feathered creature walking around before dinosaurs even existed. That means feathers may be 70 million years older than we thought, older even than dinosaurs.

Not everyone's convinced, and scientists plan on finding more specimens to decide for sure what to think about dinosaurs and feathers. But if these interpretations are correct, it means dinosaurs and birds shared an ancient feathery ancestor.

“The feather has deeper origins, not of a bird but maybe from the ancestors of birds, dinosaurs and pterosaurs,” explained Baoyu Jiang, a researcher at Nanjing University in China.