When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind #55: Saurian Speculation: Dinosaur Feathering

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Thank goodness I’m finally able to get this out here. I know it really hasn’t been that long since my last post but I wanted this out much earlier. For some reason my internet connection has been spotty and and it wouldn’t allow me to access my own website!

 

Over the last couple of days I’ve really began to hate dinosaurs.

Anyway, welcome to the first installment of a new recurring segment Saurian Speculation, in where I look at speculative depictions of dinosaurs in recent art and media. This will be different than Trope-osaurus, which deals with often outdated tropes and cliches seen continually in dinosaur art and film, here we will discuss ideas about dinosaurs that people like to push but don’t have absolute evidence for (such as recent theories about dinosaur behavior, outward appearance, and the like). In a way, this particular post continues with the theme I had in the last one, which talked about ‘shrink wrapping’ dinosaurs by putting only a thin layer of skin on a dinosaur depiction. While last time we talked about flesh, this time we will talk about feathering. Yes, you can shrink wrap dinosaur feathers as well. In many ways, it’s worse than the shrink wrapped skin.

We all know the facts. Despite everyone’s favorite dinosaur franchise Jurassic Park, many dinosaurs were actually covered in feathers as opposed to crocodilian scales. However, there is still a bit of contention over which dinosaurs had feathers and over how much feathers some dinosaurs had.

Since the mid 90’s, the only dinosaurs we knew for sure had feathers from actual fossil evidence were small and bird like, such as Caudipteryx and Microcraptor.

From these, we inferred that dinosaurs like oviraptorsaurs, ornithomimids, troodonts, and yes, raptors were also feathered before direct evidence of of these specific groups were found as well. And even though people are still trying to get over feathered raptors…

Seriously, what is there to get over?

…many were happy that the feather curse wasn’t affecting big dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex. Although lots of feather Nazi’s presented the idea, it was always shot down by people saying that tyrannosaurs were so big they didn’t need feathering.

Then this guy shows up.

Yutyrannus was the first moderately sized theropod found with a covering of fluff, and it basically opened up the floodgates for feathered depictions of T. rex. Of course, at the time it was thought to be a tyrannosaur, and it would make sense that they had feathers considering tyrannosaurs were coelurosaurs, a group of dinosaurs that included all the other feathered dinosaurs we have already discovered. However, it was later found that Yutyrannus wasn’t a tyrannosaur, but instead a carcharodontosaur…

BOOM! Feathered carnosaurs!

But that’s OK, said the increasingly worried populace, all the feathered dinosaurs are theropods. There are no known feathered ornithischians, which means dinosaurs like Triceratops and Stegosaurus are safe.

BOOM! Ornithischian quills!

BIGGER BOOM! Triceratops quills!

Well, we can live with quills. Those may have appeared independently from feathers.

 

BOOM! FUZZY ORNITHISCHIANS!!!

Wait, in what time period did that dinosaur live? The Early Jurassic?

Does that mean feathers were a trait dinosaurs had since the very beginning?

BOOM! Feathered Triassic dinosaurs!

OK, so with all of these discoveries, it would seem people are now more than ever willing to add feathers to every dinosaur depiction no matter what the species. However, there are still a lot of grey areas in how much feathering dinosaurs had and what kind of feathers they sported. I’ll begin in where this argument first started, with the theropods.

My last post talked about shrink wrapping, in which dinosaur depictions have the skin adhere rather closely to the skeletal structure of the body. The same can be said about feathers. In many feathered theropod depictions, especially raptors, the feathering adheres very closely to the body and the outline of the dinosaur is very similar to a depiction of the same dinosaur without feathers.

However, most feathered creatures today (birds) don’t have their feathered adhere closely to their body structure. In fact, the actual shape of their body is usually completely disguised by their large amount of feathering. Their are some exceptions (ostriches and flamingos to and extent) but for the most part birds look like this…

…instead of this.

Because of this, many artists have decided to fill out their raptor reconstructions.

Personally, I’m a fan of this approach. I love to see raptors depicted with much more bird like features. And I would love too see this more often with other small and even moderately sized theropods.

Now that’s what I call a Dilophosaurus!

I love it when Cryolophosaurus is depicted this way!

But, what about when we start talking about the really big dinosaurs? What about Tyrannosaurus?

When we talk about feathering dinosaurs as big as T. Rex and bigger, I think we need to stop looking at them as bird feathers and instead look at them like we view fur on mammals. Let me explain.

There are so many arguments against and for the feathering of large dinosaurs, and many of these people have very valid points to make. However, a lot of them seem to think in black and white in their opinions, and forget that nature is full of inconsistencies. One of the major arguments against feathering large dinosaurs like T. rex was that modern large mammals like elephants and rhinos have very little fur because in their large size too much covering would be a detriment to their internal cooling system. Arguments for feathering T. Rex often point to Yutyrannus, it being a moderately sized dinosaur and covered in fluff. Both ends have solid arguments in my opinion, but both also fall flat in several ways. Perhaps a compromise is in order.

First, let’s look at the argument that large mammals today don’t need a lot of covering because of their size. They point to rhinos and elephants, but they seem to forget that not all rhinos and elephants in earth’s history had little hair.

Woolly rhinos and woolly mammoths were covered in fur, but what if a future paleontologist discovered evidence of thick fur on these creatures and then came to the conclusion that all rhinos and elephants were covered in shaggy fur? It should also be noted that woolly rhinos and mammoths lived in a cold environment, and a thick covering is a logical adaptation. Yutyrannus lived in a climate much cooler than the one Tyrannosaurus would have lived in. Yutyrannus’ habitat would have been akin to a modern temperate forest, while T. rex’s ecosystem was more subtropical, like modern day Southern Florida. Modern elephants and rhinos also live in warm tropical and semi tropical environments. So, does this mean that Tyrannosaurus may not have had feathers after all?

Well, I’m not saying that either.

We need to remember that nature is full of inconsistencies and doesn’t always follow a a set pattern nor does it always make sense. What if that same futuristic paleontologist found skin impressions of a domesticated pig, and came to the conclusion that all species of swine had no hair because this particular type didn’t have any?

But what about warthogs, which have longer hair but only on certain parts of the body?

And then there is the peccary, which is covered in long, bristle like hair.

And the strange thing is, all these pig species inhabit similar environments (albeit in different parts of the world). Yet, they all have differing levels of covering. Despite that, they are all still very similar to each other. My point is just because one dinosaur is found with a certain amount/kind of covering doesn’t mean that’s the default setting for all members of that particular group. I can see something similar in primitive ceratopsian depictions. Psittacosaurus was discovered with quills on it’s tail, with the rest of the body covered in scales.

Because of this, many similar dinosaurs were later depicted with quills in a similar arrangement and amount. However, we simply don’t know if this was a uniform trait in all of these types of dinosaurs. Some may have had long bristly feathers/quills all over their body like the peccary.

Some may have not even had this feature at all! This also goes for Triceratops, which is recently thought to have had quills. Because of this, other large ceratopsians are given a similar treatment with the quills in the same places as the Triceratops. However, the quill arrangement could have been unique for every species, and some ceratopsians may have not sported any at all.

When we find one kind of dinosaur with a certain kind of feathering, it shouldn’t be the ‘be all end all’ for the depictions of all other members of that dinosaurs group. There is so much variety in nature today that it would be foolish to think so definitively of that.

  

All bovine, yet with different degrees of covering.

I think we need to be more open minded about this subject. Yes, I like the idea of feathering dinosaurs, but I don’t like it when one feather discovery becomes the catalyst of how other members of that group are depicted without regard to environment or natural diversity. Do I think Tyrannosaurus had feathers? Yes. But I don’t know how much feathers it may have had nor how they were arranged. Maybe it didn’t have a lot of feathers, and those tyrannosaur skin impressions feather haters often point to actually do have some merit. I don’t know, and I’m not going to pretend like I do. Neither should you.

So, even though I don’t have the facts, what are my personal opinions on feathered dinosaurs? How do I like to see dinosaur feathering portrayed based on my own observations and analysis? Well, this is my basic guideline for feathered dinosaurs (let me stress opinion!). 

Small feathered dinosaurs should look more akin to modern birds than a reptile with a light feathered covering.

Don’t shrink wrap, and don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of what is known.

Really large carnivores like Tyrannosaurus I like to see feathered, but they don’t all have to be consistent in their covering. Take into account their environment and don’t be afraid to be speculative.

 

As far as bird hipped dinosaurs, small dinosaurs I like to see automatically feathered/quilled in some way. However, this may not be universal.

Dinosaurs like Psittacosaurus and heterodontosaurs were the first ornithischians found with feather like structures often referred to as quills, so many slightly earlier attempts to feather larger ornithischians usually depicted quills instead of fluffier feathers.

However, with the discovery of Kulindadromeus it is now known that at least some ornithischians had fluffier coverings.

Because of this, I’m not opposed to other ornithoschians with fluffy feathers.

As dinosaurs get bigger, I do think the amount of covering gets less and less. I do like it when large hadrosaurs are given small patches of feathering, however.

I do like quills on ceratopsians, but I’m not sure about stegosaurs and ankylosaurs. You’re guess is as good as mine, but I will admit I like the bearded look some people give to ankylosaurs.

I really like the idea that all baby dinosaurs were covered in a fuzzy down like modern birds.

If a dinosaur lived in a cold environment, don’t be afraid to go crazy with the covering.

As far as sauropods go, I’ve seen a few Triassic sauropodomorphs like Plateosaurus depicted with feathers and I think that is a cool idea.

I highly doubt the largest sauropods, like Brachiosaurus, Apatosaurus, or Argentinosaurus have very much covering if any.

I’m not a huge fan of this look.

However, I should note once again that this is all my opinion based on the very meager evidence we have to work with and most of this is speculation anyway. I would love to be proven wrong. If a large sauropod was discovered with evidence of a full coat I would be all over that. But in the end I just don’t know. What I do know, however, that in nature the variety of covering is immense and rarely consistent. I would love to see more variety in the feathered depictions of dinosaurs in paleo-art, but I also have to remind myself that there is still so much we don’t know for sure. however, that’s really part of the fun when learning about dinosaurs; you are always finding out something new and it’s actually joyful to be proven wrong.

For me anyway.

Next time, join me as I finally review another movie (it’s been way too long). Join me for the anime cult film You Are Umasou.

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20 thoughts on “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind #55: Saurian Speculation: Dinosaur Feathering

  1. I love that Dilophosaurus to death, but that Crylophosaur kind of bugs me. It’s not the amount of feathering, it’s that the feathers look exactly like a barn owl. I realize that paleo-artists really only have modern birds’ feather arrangements to draw on, but I don’t know, something really bugs me about when artists depict feathered dinosaurs with feathers that match modern birds’ to a T. Like a depiction of some dromaeosaurid I saw once whose feather patterns were 100% identical to a seagull’s. Something about that just doesn’t seem right to me. What do you think?

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    1. I understand completely. The main reason I showed off the cryolophosaur pictures was because when I first saw those images it really made me think. I love it whenever people think outside the norm when reconstructing dinosaurs and decided to get a little creative with the integument, and personally I find most cryolophosaurus depictions way too skinny for my taste, even before I discovered those illustrations. However, I do understand the dislike for copying a modern bird’s color palate and slapping it on a dinosaur, but I think some people do it to better visualize dinosaurs as more bird like than reptilian. The only times I really dislike it is when they use the feather coloration of macaws and other tropical birds without variation, which I personally think looks a little lazy.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A good example is Spinosaurus. I have a hard time picturing it being aquatic & feathered. And you say bird-hipped, how do we know that they didn’t contribute to modern birds?

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    1. Well, the names bird hip and lizard hip are kind of arbitrary and are only really named by how they looked like to early paleontologists. In fact, it was once thought that dinosaurs like Hypsilophodon gave rise to birds and the fact that it was a ‘bird’ hipped dinosaur was one of the lines of evidence presented. However, if you look at the pelvis bones of raptors and other very bird like theropods, they look much closer to modern birds than the ornitihschians do.
      One of the coolest ideas I’ve seen for feathering on Spinosaurus or any spinosaurid dinosaur for that matter is the idea that they had short, waterproof feathers like a penguin to aid in their semi-aquatic lifestyle. See this image below (warning, it’s a bit too shrink wrapped for my tastes but it does illustrate my point).

      However, I have come to peace with the fact that Spinosaurus may have been nothing more than a dinosaur crocodile.

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  3. Ever seen the movie “Dinosaur Island”? It features an excessively-fluffy Tyrannosaurus decked out in rainbow parrot colors. Which honestly looks ridiculous…a brightly colored large predator in the tropics that’s really shaggy?

    I have wholeheartedly welcomed feathered theropods, but I have my doubts on the rest. Can you just imagine what a fluffy, feathery DIPLODOCUS would look like?

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  4. I love most of these, but the fluffy pachycephalosaur just looks wrong to me for some reason. Also, I will be annoying and point out that Megalosaurus is not technically a carnosaur but a spinosauroid.

    Another thing, could you please do Australovenator for dinos that deserve more love? It is such an awesome dinosaur, and I feel it is really under-appreciated.

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      1. Yeah, carnosaurs are really specialised nowadays. It’s basically the Allosaurids and the Carcharodontosaurids, along with some primitive ones like Yangchuanosaurus and Sinraptor.

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  5. Are you planning to do any more Saurian Speculations? This has been the only one so far. Maybe you could look at speculative fleshy structures like trunks and air sacs.

    While I love that feathered dilophosaurus, it also made me think. Dilophosaurus was the size of an ostrich or bigger, right? And ostriches have much sparser feathers than smaller birds, so maybe the Dilo is a bit over the top. Heck, even birds like eagles, comparable in size to something like Velociraptor, have feathers that are more conforming to the body shape than really small birds. So, what I guess I’m trying to say is, how much is too much?

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    1. Haha, I just noticed it says I posted the above comment at 4:38am! Different time zones (I’m in Australia. It was 2 in the afternoon local time).

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    2. I would love to do more Saurian Speculation. Just got to find the time.

      I’m not sure how much feathering would be too much, although I do like to imagine Dilophosaurus as pretty fluffy. But we may never know for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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