|Sinosauropteryx prima; Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons|
What's so special about it?
Though the idea that birds descended from dinosaurs is one that came about as early as the 19th century (through English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley), the best evidence of this link is a fairly recent discovery. In the 1990s, an ancient fossilized lakeshore environment in China revealed many well-preserved animal remains, captured in exquisite detail thanks to the fine grains of lake silt that would have entombed any deceased animal. It was here that Sinosauropteryx was discovered, surprising the world for being the first dinosaur known to be covered almost completely in feathers! Further studies have even been able to ascertain the
colouring of this species, and the feathers are thought to have been of a chestnut hue, with a banded pattern along the tail. The revelation of 'feathered dinosaurs' has encouraged closer examination of previously-discovered fossils, and it is now thought that a wide of array of dinosaurs - from Velociraptor to the huge, plant-eating Therizinosaurus - were covered in feathers also. You'll never look at 'Jurassic Park' the same way again!
Where can I see one?
All Sinosauropteryx fossils have been unearthed in the Chinese Province of Liaoning. The Zoological Museum in Copenhagen has a reconstructed fossil skeleton of this species on display.
Is there anything similar near Brisbane?
Yes, actually! Bipedal, feathered, lakeside predators of a size equal to Sinosauropteryx are common in Brisbane - one such example is the White-faced Heron (Ardea novaehollandiae). Remains in the stomach of the dinosaur indicate a diet consisting mostly of small mammals, which at the time were restricted to a nocturnal lifestyle. This means that either the dinosaur had excellent foraging skills during the day, or it was most active during the twilight hours in the way that many mice-eating birds are today. Next time you see a Heron, imagine it chasing mice through the wetland ferns as the sun sets, and you might have an accurate impression of Sinosauropteryx.