Scientists discover 'bizarre' dinosaur species in Spain

Monday, May 30, 2011

SCIENTISTS HAVE dug up what they describe as a “bizarre” new dinosaur species. It has a never-seen-before humped back but also sports skin features very like those seen in modern-day chickens.

While these two particular birds never flocked together, they do share small bumps on their limbs that look very like “quill knobs”, the place where feathers are attached.

The newly discovered dinosaur likely had some form of skin appendage akin to feathers, according to the scientists who made the discovery, described this morning in the journal Nature .

Madrid-based Dr Francisco Ortega and colleagues found an “exquisitely preserved” skeleton at Las Hoyas in Spain of a creature they named Concavenator corcovatus .

There was little doubt it was a member of the meat-eating side of the theropod dinosaur family, the big daddy of which was Tyrannosaurus Rex.

This fellow was nothing like as large as T-Rex but still measured six metres long and would have made short work of the aforementioned chicken.

What was very different, however, was its unusually designed spine. It had two modified vertebrae that gave the creature a pronounced hump, a feature not previously recorded by palaeontologists.

Then there were those quill knobs, although these have also been recorded in other dinosaur fossils. The question is, what did those quill knobs hold?

The authors say that the debate about links between the modified skin structures likely to have appeared in these knobs and modern bird feathers remained “open”. It could have been an “evolutionary novelty” the authors write, or they could represent a precursor to the feathers of chickens and other birds today.

What the discovery does do is push back the earliest appearance of these skin appendages to at least 130 million years ago when animals such as the Concavenator emerged.

“ Concavena tor shows that the combination of scale and non-scale skin appendages exhibited in present-day poultry was already present in large theropod dinosaurs 130 million years ago,” the authors write.

There also seemed to be some pride in the fact that the fossil was one of the best preserved and most complete meat-eater dinosaurs yet found in Europe. The family was previously thought to have roamed mainly the southern continents.

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