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If T-Rex was Really Feathered or Not

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer back in college for a school paper. Science is one of his many interests, and his favorite topic.

if-the-t-rex-was-really-feathered-or-not

Right now, people are divided over one thing. Those who loved our Tyrant Lizard King can’t decide if it was downy or not.

As our understandings of dinosaurs deepened, our overall images of what they looked like changed a lot. We are fascinated by early depictions of dinosaurs from those colorful illustrations, I mean the images of scaled giants roaming the misty prehistoric backgrounds are sights to wonder. The problem here is that they are dated. Much have changed, and we all knew that sauropods never hanged in the water, or how pterosaurs were not even dinosaurs at all.

And then there is the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Early reconstructions presented a more lizard-like creature, with shorter snout and more upright gait. The creature’s imagery will later evolve as more discovery surfaced. In the later years we got a more intimidating beast, with lower posture and less lizard-like features. It was still covered with scales, but as what others pointed out, that will all change. Since the dinosaurs, particularly the therapods were more birdlike, they should be covered with feathers.

The presence of feathers in raptorial dinosaurs cannot be denied. There are quill knobs in the forearm bones, while smaller species like microraptors got preserved feathers in their fossils.

So, is it possible that larger therapods, like the T-rex got feathers too?

For some, it is a harsh prospect to digest. It is hard to imagine a beloved giant looking so downy, like a monstrous turkey. Though in my case I thought their worries are baseless as there are terrifying feathery birds out there. I mean just look at the birds of prey. I was ready to accept the feathered T-rex, but some scientific studies say not so fast. And in the end, we got two distinct reconstructions of T-rex; a scaly type and a feathery type.

The Fluffy Monster

The feathered Tyrannosaurus, Yutyrannus. Photo from the Smithsonian Magazine.

The feathered Tyrannosaurus, Yutyrannus. Photo from the Smithsonian Magazine.

Aesthetically, people reckoned that feathers ruined the fearsome image of the Tyrant King, but again that’s science and it’s not there to comply to any fandom. And yet before the mighty T-Rex came in the end of Cretaceous, its smaller and faster ancestors already prowled the Mezosoic earth.

And these beasts sported feathers in their bodies.

These early Tyrannosauroid includes creatures like the Dilong Paradoxus from China, a crested raptor sized Tyrannosauroid discovered in 2004. Buried with its bones are fossilized feather, making it the first Tyrannosauroid with evidence of feathers. Feathers could have been used for insulation, mostly by smaller species, and it was speculated that it lost favor among larger creatures. That was until the discovery of the behemoth named Yutyrannus huali.

Again Yutyrannus (feathered tyrant) was not a small animal, it’s a giant of a therapod, with a length of almost thirty feet. And as the name suggest, it sported long filaments of feathers in various parts of its body.

With feathers present on large T-rex relatives, it might be possible that the T-rex itself was a fluffy giant. The world should prepare itself to see a feathered T-rex, but other evidence, or lack of it says the opposite.

The Scaly Giant

The flesh on statue of T-rex Sue in the Field Museum.

The flesh on statue of T-rex Sue in the Field Museum.

The problem with the feathery T-rex is that up until now, paleontologists are yet to find physical evidence of a downy giant. When they unearthed the Yutyrannus, the remnants of feathers are already there together with the fossilized bones. But not a single imprint of feather was found among the bony remains of T-rex, even after years of digging. Possibly, there are still more out there waiting to be uncovered. The possibilities are open but until someone finds it, the feathered T-rex will remain a hypothetical reconstruction.

Then, there are the skin impressions.

Specimen like the “Wyrex” got preserved skin impressions in patches of its bodies, and areas of the neck, hip and tail all indicate a mosaic of scales and not feathers. And going back to the Yutyrannus and the possibilities of feathers in large Tyrannosauroids, it might be worth mentioning that the Yutyrannus’ feathers are there for a good reason.

The Yutyrannus lived in cooler environment.

With the weather cooler, feathers could really helped with the insulation. But for other giant Tyrannosauroid elsewhere, with T-rex included, who lived in warmer climates, feathers got little use.

Modern Giants

The African Elephant.

The African Elephant.

People also argued that the clues on whether our creature was feathered or not are literally living among us. Large mammals like rhinoceros and elephants lumbered the modern world in their bare and leathery glory. Yes, they don’t have scales, and mammals have furs instead of feathers. But these giant beasts were never fluffy like most of the smaller mammals. Maybe the same can be said to the larger Tyrannosauroids, as the bulk will make it easier for them to overheat when they were feathered. But feathers are structurally different from furs, so different in fact that it is unlikely that large therapods with coats of down will suffer from overheating.

But if modern animals will be the clues, then feathers could be a form of display for the therapods. They are related to birds after all, and their sights were good enough to spot a show-off. Be prepared for a colorful T-rex then!

But in the end, it was all assumptions. With evidence still awaiting to surface, all we could do now is to make educated guesses and keep on digging.

Something in the Middle

T-rex statue in the American Museum of Natural History. Note the feather tuffs.

T-rex statue in the American Museum of Natural History. Note the feather tuffs.

But it’s always safe to assume that like modern day animals, our therapod could be feathered only in certain parts of its body. Going back on the skin impressions of Wyrex, the scaly imprint came from the neck, hip, and tail. Scientists assumed that elsewhere, like the upper part of its body were feathery covers. Limited feathers won’t help with insulation, nor it will overheat the animal. What it does was to enhance the appearance of the animal in terms of display. The feathery growth on the upper body could have helped our T-rex show off during mating, and those tuffs were the remnants of its full body down when it was young. When it came out to this world as a hatchling, the little T-rex is a little ball of fluff, a young therapod with a body full of feathers. As it gets older it lost much of its feathers, until few remained to help for display.

But Overall, We got a Scaly T-rex

But until we found actual fossils of a feathery T-rex, the reconstruction of a downy predator or a Tyrannosaurs with tuffs of feathers on parts of its body is just an educated guess. The assumption that T-rex was feathered came from how other Tyrannosauroids sported fluffs of their own. I’m open to see a feathery T-rex, but more evidence needs to be unearthed, hence until that day come the more accurate representation is a scale covered therapod.

References

1. Farago, Jason (March 7, 2019). "T.Rex Like You Haven't Seen Him: With Feathers." New York Times.

2. Lunsford, Christine (2019 August). "'In Images, A New Look at T.Rex and its Relatives." Live Science.

3. Katz, Brigit (June 08, 2017). "T.Rex Was Likely Covered in Scales, Not Feathers." Smithsonian Magazine

4. Black, Riley (April 5, 2012). "Scientists Discover a Gigantic Feathered Tyrannosaur." Smithsonian Magazine.

5. Welsh, Jennifer (April 5, 2012). "Humongous Fuzzy Dinosaur Unearthed in China"." The Christian Science Monitor.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Coelophysis on October 05, 2020:

One dwarf caiman live or near the andies mountain the dwarf crocodile is from Africa.t.rex have unique predator ziphodont teeth like gator type fossil land mesoeucrocodylia .spinosauridae short teeth is to hold prey the bigger teeth is to crush bone same teeth is found in the Nile crocodile this is heterodont teeth a dinosaur feature it’s not a unique feature in reptile because gator have this feature the bigger teeth is design to crush bone it’s design to kill bigger prey not fish like how jaw And neck Is design to swallow bigger prey The death roll is design to kill bigger prey it’s not design to kill fish every spinosauridae can do the death roll even gharial can do it there skull is missing a predator feature that make the skull weak Spinosauridae like the rest of modern crocodilian have the skull feature to make the skull strong the Brazilian spinosauridae have two teeth in one socket it is found In fossil gator type mesoeucrocodylia

Coelophysis on September 27, 2020:

Andies moutian if.spinosauridae do have sagittal crest the tyrannosaur feature in tetanuran this is new Imformation Spinosaurus and baryonyx both have it advance and primitive that interested megaraptor has it and they call it tyrannosaur but not spinosauridae the two primitive tyrannosaur compsognathus megaraptor the reason for compsognathus as a tyrannosaur The mandibular fenestra is lost a modern bird And archaeopteryx feature But it is allso lost two species of mesoeucrocodylia and it’s a dwarf the tibia is bigger thAn the femur allso A bird feature this is found 1 mesoeucrocodylia and other things Mandibular fenestra in maniraptan It is reason it is claim that it is a dinosaur The false claim .pineal gland is found in early dinosaur and early tetanuran .comsognathus I doubt it has sagittal crest now won Is calling it tyrannosaur But it is. I thought sagittal crest happen first in gator type mesoeucrocodylia

Coelophysis on September 25, 2020:

Dinosaur is one group quadrupedal dinosaur came from theropod armor dinosaur bird hip dinosaur gator all have short arms and big leg classic bipedal feature gator is tetanuran dinosaur the 3 finger dinosaur no feather and it is tyrannosaur .armor dinosaur Are very scalely like today land crocodilian Very heavy armor they have big croc bum extreme like stegosaurus common rows armor like today crocodilian carnotaurus show that but it’s 4 finger dinosaur not a tetanuran compsognathus fossil croc bum on arm very rare thing in thecodont allso found in fossil mesoeucrocodylia sauropod . compsognathus is a tetanuran .microraptor is a perching bird not a dinosaur It’s crown crest Feather on the skull you can find those feather on today birds all maniraptoran are birds and oviraptor too they are flightless bird or like microraptor a flying bird just Like today birds They have hypocleium furcula the furcula is fuse to keel like sternum it’s same for archaeopteryx any bird have that it is good flying bird all claws are for tree climbing dinosaur claws are For grasping Microraptor had no flightless bird toe claw and dinosaur did not have human Thumb bird do bird are not thecodont thecodont mean crocodilian teeth a dinosaur and gator feature first modern bird trachea is not like dinosaur this bird is alive today most bird are like that there one like dinosaur but it is not in first modern bird group This is big problem for Alan feduccia allso claim it’s hard tell different from compsognathus archaeopteryx fossil it’s easy by neck reptile neck rib is very big and not fuse the muscle attachment is different bird neck ribs is remnants and it’s fuse mammal is like that too because there neck is not fix very movable neck sauropod and gator is best in dinosaur some of rib is short but gator neck is still fix dinosaur neck rib only fuse when disease bird neck Is unique Only match turtle they have the same scientific name some turtle neck Are very movable I think archaeopteryx neck is different And other early bird like velociraptor but Have same Remnants short neck ribs .and early bird did not have antitrochanter even early modern bird did not have antitrochanter early dinosaur had antitrochanter the later bird antitrochanter have no link to dinosaur antitrochanter .no won know how protofeather look like the claim gator have protofeather because grow in a lab and looks like Those fossil dinosaur protofeather the same protofeather found in today sea snake and dolphin is this a joke .that why Alan feduccia does not use it.and Bird have some of the Third eye a primitive feature There occified tendon is mammal dinosaur is modern crocodilian a bipedal feature scipionxy fossil the yok sack in dinosaur Is inside body bird is outside body A primitive feature like most fish . America Gator live In snow places Can survive frozen pond feral gator survive many winter in The penn state one of dwarf Caiman is known to hunt in Very cold water and it likes it better it live in mountain Chinese gator live in cold places Too these do not have feather and change a lot before modern crocodilian do not need feather for the cold That dwarf crocodile Live in snow run off River From Andries mountain Alan feduccia like all educated scientist saw evidence and say gator is a spinosauridae these are mesoeucrocodylia dinosaur and spinosauridae is a tyrannosaur the full palate dinosaur palate science is old science these have strongEST bite force in dinosaUr it started in tyrannosaur the sagittal crest megaraptor fossil say now it’s a tyrannosaur because of sagittal crest it want To learn crocodilian evolution You want To know we’re sagittal crest come from since it’s tetanuran you look at tyrannosaur because it’s first to have it in tetanuran A tyrannosaur feature both have Cingulum teeth and most sensoritive face in animal kingdom protosuchus lack Cingulum and dot skin Sagittal crest is bite force feature mostly predator have this feature Gator is bipedal it’s more like human bipedal because they have Human ankle very rare feature in animal kingdom