“It suggests that the ancestor of all dinosaurs might have been a feathered animal,” says study author Mark Norell, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Researchers have found feathered dinosaurs before, but this one is more distantly related to birds than any previously discovered. CalledSciurumimus albersdoerferi, it belongs to a group of massive dinosaurs called megalosaurs that had sharp teeth, claws and a heavy-duty frame. The specimen — a youngster that lived about 150 million years ago — is only 70 centimeters long, but it could have grown up to 10 meters, about the length of a school bus.
The fossil’s feathers aren’t the only things getting paleontologists all aflutter. The skeleton’s condition is exciting, too.
“It’s a gorgeous specimen,” says Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. “Probably one of the best meat-eating dinosaurs ever preserved.”