Fluffy structures trapped in thumbnail-sized bits of ancient amber may represent some of the earliest evolutionary experiments leading to feathers, according to a new study. These filaments of “dinofuzz” are so well preserved that they even provide hints of color, the researchers say.

The oldest bird, Archaeopteryx, lived in what is now Germany about 150 million years ago, and the oldest known feathered dinosaur, Anchiornis huxleyi, lived in northeastern China between 151 million and 161 million years ago. Both creatures had modern-style feathers, each of which had a central shaft; barbs, which made up the feather’s vane; and substructures called barbules tipped with Velcro-like hooklets that held the barbs together to form a sturdy aerodynamic surface.

Structures believed to represent earlier stages of feather evolution, such as flexible, unbranched filaments—often called protofeathers but sometimes dubbed “dinofuzz”—have been found in fossils of dinosaurs that lived long after Archaeopteyrx and Anchiornis but had not been discerned in older fossils.

A ticklish debate. Recently analyzed chunks of Canadian amber include filaments presumed to be protofeathers (top) like those seen in some Chinese fossils of dinosaurs and fragments of feathers (below) similar to those sported by modern-day birds.

Credit: Science/AAAS

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Source: Science Read more

Interesting article on BBC News also

 

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