feathers arose in the course of Evolution, probably sooner than previously thought. This is an international team of researchers reported after a detailed study of two well-preserved pterosaurs from China in the journal “Nature, Ecology & Evolution”.

they found that the body of the pterodactyl is covered with attachments, the springs in the Form and structure strongly resemble. Probably they were used for, among other things, the thermal regulation and the perception and improved the aerodynamics of the pterosaur.

pterosaurs (pterosaurs) were the first Vertebrates that were able to fly thanks to their flight skins active. However, they are not ancestors of modern birds, which have developed according to most experts from theropod dinosaurs.

No difference to bird feathers

On some fossils of pterodactyls have been found, researchers already a long time ago by thread – shaped, hair-or feather-like structures, so-called Pycnofasern. How they came to be and especially, how they are to be interpreted, is, however, currently controversial. Many experts believe that the structures far more for fur than feathers.

fossils of the newly discovered pterosaur

Now have investigated researchers to Zixiao Yang of Nanjing University (Nanjing/China) two pterosaur that lived prior to 165 to 160 million years ago in present-day China. On the body of the animals, the scientists found that in the case of high-resolution microscopic studies of four different types of Pycnofasern.

A variant was composed of straight, unbranched structures that resemble hair. Others were branched at the end, or – as down feathers over the entire length. Such a spring variants are also of the same time living dinosaurs known. The Pycnofasern of the pterosaurs in the logic to also feathers, the researchers write.

red pigment in the Plumage

Also, the computer analyses the spring-a theory confirmed. “In spite of careful search, we could find no anatomical evidence that the four Pycnofasern differ in any way from the feathers of birds or dinosaurs,” concludes study leader Mike Benton of the University of Bristol in the UK.

the chemical structure of the filaments, spring-typical features. The researchers discovered cell structures called melanosomes, which contain color pigments. This could have given the fluffy feathers of a reddish color, says the study.

taken Together, the work suggests that springs have already been incurred in the past, the common ancestors of dinosaurs and pterodactyls. Alternatively, you could have developed in both lines independently of each other, the scientists write.

feathers as protection from the cold

The spring variants were represented in different regions of the body of the pterodactyl is variable, and probably had other functions.

the body and wings occurring variants could, however, reduce the tensile forces and the Streamlining of the animals while flying have improved, similar to today’s bats. Those spring variants, which were in high numbers, especially around the neck, shoulders, behind the legs and on the tail, support, possibly, as a sub-coat is the Regulation of the body temperature.

Liliana D’alba of the University of Ghent in Belgium does not want to believe what the scientists, however, still quite. There remains the question, whether the investigated filaments were actually branched out, she writes. Although the fossils are exceptionally well preserved, the Interpretation of the filaments is always a bit subjective. The branch was the most significant feature of feathers.

D’Alba, in the near future, better methods are available to check the Thesis, the researcher – for example special scanning electron microscopes.


Sam Yoon has many years of experiences in journalism. He has covered such areas as information technology, science, sports and politics. Yoon can be reached at 82-2-6956-6698.