The huge scratch marks found by Martin Lockley (right) and Ken Cart in what is now West Colorado are said to come from a balancing dinosaur. (Photo: University of Colorado Denver)
Read aloud The image of dinosaurs has changed radically since the 1990s. After excavations in China revealed prints of feathers, many museums had to adapt their replicas. From the scaly-skinned reptiles were bird-like creatures with plumage.

In 2007, the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History dedicated a large exhibition to the new image of the Dinos ( bild der wissenschaft 4/2007, "Dinosaurs: Feathered Winners" ), which caused a rush of visitors. Today, a decade later, "there is still a tremendous spirit of optimism, " says dinosaur expert Rainer Schoch from the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History. Paleontology, which used to be widely regarded as a dusty subject, is causing a stir in science: researchers worldwide are searching for dino springs.

Hardly any scientists doubt that birds are the descendants of dinosaurs. Therefore, the primitive bird Archeopteryx is not only considered a bird, but also a dinosaur. But new questions arise: Which dinosaur species carried feathers? When did the feathers develop? And what were they originally for?

The paleontologists are faced with the problem that feathers are very transient creatures that rarely survive for millions of years. But now every Dino fossil is scrutinized. With success: For example, Oliver Rauhut from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich irradiated the fossilization of a young predatory dinosaur with UV light - and thereby found fine fibers.

Sheds became feathers

The feathers could solve many a puzzle. For a long time, for example, the researchers sought an explanation for strange strokes around some fossilized Dino footprints. Now they suspect: The animals probably wore a floor-length feather wreath on their feet, as some chickens today. And the American Martin Lockley interprets a large field with scratch marks as a venue for giant bird-like dinosaurs. display

A find in Siberia, which was published in the summer of 2014 caused a stir. The one-and-a-half-meter dinosaur apparently carried both scales and three different types of feathers: simple bristle-like shapes, a kind of down, and tufts of long ribbon-like structures. They did not have much in common with the highly complex feathers used by today's birds.

Above all, however, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus did not belong - like T-Rex or Velociraptor - to the theropods, which are considered ancestors of birds, but to the bird-tank dinosaurs, which despite the name are only distantly related to birds. He lived about 150 million years ago. Many researchers therefore suspect that feathers originated from dandruff at a very early stage, and that ultimately all dinosaurs carried them, at least as young animals, probably as cold protection.

Meanwhile even developmental biologists have proven that the birds are descendants of the dinosaurs - with bizarre experiments. They reversed evolution by eliminating certain "modern" genes. The Brazilian João Francisco Botelho created in this way a chicken with dino legs. And Bhart-Anjan Bhullar of Yale University turned the chicken's beak into a dino snout.

© science.de - Klaus Jacob
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