Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Yutyrannus, the fuzzy giant

The first definite feathered Dinosaur was found in 1996 in the Liaoning Province in China, since then many more have followed, most of them quite small. Not so Yutyrannus, at 9 meters and an estimated one-and-a-half tonnes it's a giant. And it's a Tyrannosaur to boot albeit distantly related to T. rex.

Yutyrannus dwarfing the two Beipiaosaurus in the foreground
Yutyrannus wasn't the first feathered Tyrannosaur to be found. That was Dilong a much smaller animal estimated to reach some 2 meters in size (the largest fossil found was a juvenile that was 1,6m long). Yutyrannus was a basal Tyrannosaur like Dilong, that in itself is interesting because other early Tyrannosaurs like Dilong and Guanlong were much smaller.

Beautiful feathers?
The full name Yutyrannus huali is a mix of mandarin and latin and translates as "beautiful feathered tyrant", but beauty may well be in the eye of the beholder here. While Yutyrannus was undoubtedly covered in a coat of feathers, these were primitive protofeathers and would probably have given the animal a fuzzy, rather than a majestic,  look.
It's appearance would have been further enhanced by a crest running along the top of it's snout, this was most likely used for display and so may have been vividly coloured.

Cretaceous cold
The Cretaceous is generally known as a warm period, but Yutyrannus lived during a cold spell, when temperatures dropped worldwide and parts of the earth were covered in ice. That fuzzy coat of feathers would have served it well during cold winters and in the colder regions.

Close relations
Some news reports have claimed that Yutyrannus was closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex, while such things are of course relative "close" is in this case probably over-optimistic. Some 60 million years separate the two (only slightly less than the time that separates us from T. rex!) and while both are members of the larger group Tyrannosauroidea Yutyrannus is more closely related to basal forms like Dilong and Guanlong than with the Tyrannosauridae )the late Cretaceous group that includes T. rex).

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