PerspectivePaleontology

Fossilized Feathers

Science  16 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6049, pp. 1590-1591
DOI: 10.1126/science.1212049

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Summary

Not long ago, extinct dinosaurs were considered by most as scaly and dull. All the known fossils of primitive birds (stem avians) could easily fit on a desk and our only look at Mesozoic [250 to 65 million years ago (Ma)] feathers (except for a few isolated plumes) was Archaeopteryx, a theropod dinosaur considered by most to be the most primitive bird (see the figure). How things have changed—now it would take a warehouse to store all the feathered Mesozoic stem birds and nonavian dinosaurs that have been collected from global deposits. Feathered animals abound and extend deep into nonavian history—even, perhaps, to the base of dinosaurs themselves. Now, instead of scaly animals portrayed as usually drab creatures, we have solid evidence for a fluffy colored past. Two reports in this issue, by McKellar et al. (1) on page 1619 and Wogelius et al. (2) on page 1622, provide a glimpse of the color patterning in the feathers of ancient birds.