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The traditional perception of dinosaurs is of large, dominant reptilian creatures who roamed the earth at will for millions of years. It seems like a slightly unusual question to ask, “Did dinosaurs have feathers?” Although, on closer inspection, it is perhaps not quite as far-fetched as it first appears…

‘Terrible lizard’

In 1842, a Victorian palaeontologist, Sir Richard Owen,conceived the term dinosaur, derived from the Greek words deinos meaning terrible, and sauros meaning lizard or reptile. Dinosaurs have since been classified into two main groups Saurischia and Ornithischia. These two groups are distinguished by differences in their pelvic (hip) bones.

Dinosaur classification

Saurischia – all Saurischian dinosaurs had more primitive lizard-like hips and clawed feet. These dinosaurs included carnivores and herbivores. Members of this group include the Allosaurus (different lizard), Apatorsaurus (deceptive lizard, previously known as the Brontosaurus), Diplodocus (double beam), Tyrannosaurus (tyrant lizard) and Velociraptor (swift robber).

Ornithischia – all Ornithiscian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs had hips similar to those of modern birds, and hoofed toes. All were herbivores. Members of this group include Iguanodon (iguana tooth), Stegosaurus (plated lizard) and Triceratops (three-horned face).

In terms of feathers, it is perhaps natural to assume that the Ornithischian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs would have been more likely to have feathers, although this is not considered to be the case.

“Fossilised dinosaur bones have shown evidence of bumps known as quill knobs, similar to those found on modern feathered birds”

Any evidence of feathers?

It is highly probable that many dinosaurs across both of the two main groups had feathers. It is thought the feathers or plumes evolved from scales that covered the earlier reptiles had developed to provide insulation. Fossilised dinosaur bones have shown evidence of bumps known as quill knobs, similar to those found on modern feathered birds, which provide an indication of strongly attached feathers (although there is some ongoing debate in dinosaur communities if this is actually the case).   

Did the T-Rex have feathers?

While there is no direct evidence for Tyrannosaurus Rex having had feathers, many scientists now consider it likely that T-Rex had feathers on at least parts of its body, due primarily to the presence of feathers in related species.

Distant Ancestors

Many scientists and palaeontologists have concluded that many dinosaurs, even the large dinosaurs were probably partly or even completely covered in feathers and may have descended from the Theropod group of raptor dinosaurs, which are the distant ancestors of modern birds.

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