Dinosaurs were once thought to be drab, grey and scaly. But a find announced in August, 2011, shows that this isn’t true. A team of paleontologists from the University of Alberta, Canada, lead by Ryan McKellar, found feathers trapped in amber in Alberta, that dated back to the Late Cretaceous period (144–65 million years ago). 

Think all dinosaurs are grey and scaly? These newly discovered feathers preserved in amber suggest that at least some dinosaurs were colorful. Credit: Ryan McKellar, University of Alberta.
     The feathers “…ranged in color from white to black, with some specimens hinting at a reddish-brown color.” McKellar said in an e-mail to SciJourner.
     For centuries, paleontologists have argued what color dinosaurs were. They now may know at least what one dinosaur’s colors were.
     “One of the benefits of working with amber is that there are also visible traces of pigmentation preserved in the feathers,” said McKellar. Pigmentation is the natural color of a plant’s tissue or an animal. 
    This was not the first dinosaur feather find, but it did catch the eye of McKellar and his team so that they went back through all the amber that has been found over the years and found dinosaur feathers that were found years ago, but were somehow missed. Amber is ancient tree resin that often time fell on an ancient bug or plant, solidified, then got buried only to be uncovered millions of years later.
     The feathers found in amber were in different stages. Some of the feathers McKellar’s team found were similar to those of modern birds. Some feathers may have belonged to a water bird. Those ancient birds may have been flightless diving birds. 
    The feathers McKellar and his team found show the feathers in much better detail than the feather impressions that paleontologists have found in fossils. “The feather fragments in Canadian amber provide a much broader view of Cretaceous feather-bearers than other Mesozoic [250-65 million years ago] amber deposits,” adds McKellar. Dinosaurs still had the scaly lizard skin, the feathers were just on their legs and feet like a modern bird. McKellar and his team have no idea what dinosaur these feathers belonged to. “Because the feathers were not found in association with a dinosaur skeleton, there can be no certainty regarding their source,” said McKellar.
A photomicrograph of a dinosaur feather in amber. Credit: Ryan McKellar, University of Alberta.

     There have been multiple fossils of an ancient bird-dinosaur named Archaeopteryx, first found near Langenaltheim, Germany in 1861. These fossils show a bird-like dinosaur with feathers. These fossils were the first evidence of dinosaurs with feathers, and are one of the missing links from when the dinosaurs evolved into birds. But there have been lots of other findings since 1861.

     Although the Canadian discovery isn’t the first dinosaur feather find, it has still caught the eye of paleontologists everywhere. These feathers, along with past feather discoveries, will tell us much about dinosaurs that we have never known before. There are more feathers out there and the paleontology world has only scratched the surface, say experts. Samantha Barnett

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