Feathers are what distinguishes birds from other existing lifeforms; but they’re additionally what connects them come the creatures that yore. Over the last 2 decades, countless fossils discovered in China'sLiaoning Provincehave evidenced what paleontologists lengthy suspected: Dinosaursrockedfeathers long prior to birds took to the sky.The result debunk the theory that feathers developed specifically because that flight, and also opens a Pandora’s box to the other purposes lock may have served.

A new exhibit in ~ the American Museum that Natural background in brand-new York City, title “Dinosaurs among Us,” allows us come dwell in the wondrous possibilities.The exhibit is no your typical paleontological scene. It pairs chalky, jagged fossils with models and drawings of dinosaurs particularly plumage. Tourists are also invited to construct their own flying dinos and explore the anatomical and also behavioral connections between birds and also their prehistoric kin.The screens offer a life-sized look at a organize of bizarre and terrifying feathered beasts—like theCitipati osmolskae(pictured above)—that blurthe line in between birds and dinosaurs. And also while huge dino chickens room bound to peak interest, it's the revamped models of thebristly,23-foot-long Tyrannosaurand ruffled, dead-eyedVelociraptorthat yes, really stir the imagination. Meanwhile, depicted reimaginings, choose the people below, more mystifythis ancient era of time.

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Oviraptorosaurs are cousins come T. Rex, however closer cousins to modern-day birds. They are fairly small, bird-like dinosaurs, many with toothless beaks, wishbones, and skulls filled through air pockets. Some have even been uncovered sitting on egg in the brooding posture characteristic of modern-day birds. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking organic Science company

This feathered dinosaur, Anchiornis huxley, which stayed in what’s currently China about 161 million years ago, embodies the gradual change from non-avian dinosaurs to birds. That is skeleton wasn’t constructed for an effective flapping, yet its feathered limbs could have detailed enough lift to operation or jump as much as high perches, and flap or glide earlier down again. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking natural Science organization

as soon as Archaeopteryx was defined in 1861, it brought about a sensation. With wings and feathers, that was taken into consideration the first bird, although currently scientists don’t think it could fly the well. But unlike contemporary birds, it likewise had teeth and also a bony tail. Uncovered not long after Charles Darwin propose the concept of evolution by means of organic selection, Archaeopteryx provided an example of evolution in action—a fossil that proved the transition between non-avian dinosaurs and birds. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking herbal Science company

The feathered dinosaur Sinornithosaurus millennii had feathers similar to those of modern-day birds—even despite the animal could no fly. This varieties was discovered by Chinese and American Museum that Natural history scientists. Photo: R. Mickens/AMNH

Fossils indigenous the website of Messel, Germany, commonly show exquisite details, and also the remains of this bird the lived around 47 million years back are no exception. The feather of Messelornis cristata were preserved along with the bones. The feather would have actually covered the bird’s whole body; however scientists don’t understand what shade they to be in life. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking herbal Science company
Lithornis is a close family member of Ostriches and Emus, however it could fly. That was as soon as thought that large, flightless birds choose Ostriches to be a separate evolutionary team from paris birds. But in fact, every birds lively today—even Ostriches, Emus, and other hefty ground-dwellers—evolved from smaller, paris birds. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking organic Science company
This bizarre, birdlike dinosaur, referred to as Microraptor gui, has actually feathers top top both its former and back limbs. And those behind leg feathers weren’t just decorative; they present adaptations because that flight. However could this creature really fly? more than likely not much under its own power. But it might have glided down from trees, perhaps even flapping its prior limbs. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking organic Science company
Confuciusornis sanctus is considered a bird, not just a birdlike dinosaur. Rather of dinosaur teeth, it has a beak. And also instead that a long, bony tail, it has a short, feathered tail. Yet it more than likely couldn’t fly too as modern birds, due to the fact that its breastbone can not support strong wing muscles. Skeletal features like these continued to evolve after birds an initial appeared. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking herbal Science company
in addition to sharp teeth and also claws, this small, bird-like dinosaur, referred to as Xiaotingia zhengi, had feathers top top all 4 limbs. That is not well-known whether its rear limbs had specialized, asymmetrical flight feathers prefer Microraptor, yet it could still have had actually some aerial ability. Although it didn’t fly like modern birds, it may have used its feathers to slow-moving aerial descents, pounce ~ above prey, leap as much as safety, or flap and run increase steep slopes. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking herbal Science company
This giant, flightless bird—Gastornis gigantea—would have actually been an intimidating opponent. It’s also bigger than a Velociraptor, its not-so-distant relative. However while it can have looked frightening, scientists now think this extinct bird was actually a vegetarian concerned ducks and geese. Illustration: Zhao Chuang/Peking natural Science organization

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But what specifically did these ground-bound, alien-lookingcreaturesneed feather for?One the the exhibit’s main themes is that feathers are not simply a conduit for flight:Increasing speed and also agility, regulating human body temperature, and attracting matesare a couple of of the methods scientists think dinosaurs may have wielded their plumes. Some types shook your dramatic tail feather to lure members of opposing sex, justlike peacocks and Superb Bird-of-Paradises do today. Others offered them to construct up a fierce demeanor. One lethal Velociraptor,discovered in south Dakota, sported largequill knobson that forearms, which might have been supplied to pin down prey. Meanwhile, theZhenyuanlong suni—a 6-foot-long Velociraptor explained as a "fluffy, feathered poodle native hell"—may have actually used its giant quills come intimidate other dinosaurs and also shelter its chicks. “There's a diversity that feathers," Gregory Erickson, a professor the Anatomy and also Vertebrate Paleobiology at Florida State University, says, "and that's the situation of contemporary birds now."

As more discoveries uncoverthe evolution of feathers, the difference between birds and also dinosaurs becomes an ext obsolete. "Birds are virtually, in every way, living modern-day dinosaurs," Michael Novacek, the senior Vice chairman of Paleontology at AMNH, said throughout a preview of the exhibit. Current findings show thatdistantly relatedherbivores, favor Stegosaurus and also Triceratops, sported quill-like structures, too. Yet it’s the larger carnivorous dinosaurs calledtheropods(the group that avians progressed from) that an initial bore the feather structures scientists believecontributed to modern-day flight.

”I think . . . Wings actually evolved as a display structure or an egg-brooding structure, and also then this dinosaurs suddenly discovered themselves with big sheets on your arms that had aerodynamic properties,” says Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist and also evolutionary biologist in ~ the university of Edinburgh that helped define the demonicZhenyuanlong sun.“That's more than likely how trip began—by accident.”

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