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Fossilized feathers shows there are similarities between dinosaurs and ostriches

Update Date: Nov 01, 2015 01:34 PM EST

In 2009, a well-preserved partial skeleton and rare soft tissue of an Ornithomimus dinosaur was found in the badlands of southwestern Alberta, Canada, and scientists also found its fossilized feathers. A new analysis of these feathers was published in the journal Cretaceous Research on October 28, 2015.

"We've known that birds and theropod dinosaurs had a common ancestor for at least 15 years now," Dr. Alexander Wolfe, an adjunct professor of paleobiology at the University of Alberta and a co-author of the research said. "But we didn't expect a dinosaur that clearly did not fly, Ornithomimus, to have the same basic feather architecture, structure, and composition as birds. So the similarities appear even greater with this specimen, and imply that essentially modern bird feathers evolved before flight."

The researchers analyzed the feathers under a scanning electron microscope and took a close look at the keratin structure of the plumage. They noticed that the pattern appeared similar to an ostrich.

The researchers concluded that the feathers may have played a similar role in the dinosaur as feathers do today in ostriches, which is to regulate body temperature.

"What is remarkable is that the ostrich possesses the same plumage patterns, and using that plumage pattern, they can control their body temperature very efficiently," Aaron van der Reest, an undergraduate paleontology student at the University of Alberta and lead author of the research said.

"This suggests that Ornithomimus was maintaining thermoregulation by the exact same process, and likely performing it just as efficiently as modern birds," he said. "By knowing that this method was being used so early in the origins of birds we can get important insight into the evolution of temperature control in large ground-dwelling birds like ostriches and emus."

The Ornithomimus was a theropod dinosaur with a long tail and neck, and small beaked head. It resided in the western hemisphere in the Late Cretaceous period some 66 to 100 million years ago.

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