A huge dinosaur fossil has shed new light on dino feathers and what they are for.
Aaron van der Reest, a paleontology student at the University of Alberta, was given the massive task of preparing a large fossil that was found in Dinosaur Provincial Park in 2009.
The fossilised skeleton was entombed in a huge piece of rock and, since its head and arms were missing, it hadn’t been deemed a priority.
But it turned out to be much more exciting than it first appeared. van der Reest set about working on the tail but 20 minutes later, he hit feathers.
The fossil turned out to be that of a dinosaur called ‘ornithomimus’, which means ‘bird mimic’. The 2m tall dino lived 75 million years ago and had ostrich-like feathers on its body, while a patch of fossilised skin van der Reest found on the legs suggested these were feather-free.
There are only three ornithomimus fossils that show signs of plumage - the rest are all bone - and researchers hope that this find will help them understand the purpose of feathers in dinosaurs and early birds.
The current theory is that ornithomimus used its feathers to regulate body temperature - insulating and allowing heat to escape from the skin as needed. They aren’t the kind of feathers that are used by flying birds - the structure is much more like those of ostrich feathers.
Birds are thought to have descended from a different line of dinosaurs than the ornithomimus but this discovery suggests they may have a common ancestor.