The life of dinosaurs living on the South Pole would not be easy. Of course, this was not the icy hell landscape as it is today, but the long dark winters would still be cold. We now have a better idea of how at least some of these animals remained warm.
A team of scientists from Slovakia, Sweden, Australia and the USA analyzed fossils representing an array of feathers reared by dinosaurs and birds that once lived in the Southern Arctic Circle.
While hints of lush dinosaur laundry appear here and there, most examples come from the Northern Hemisphere, representing an array of coatings that could help the Mesozoic wildlife regulate its temperatures, hide, and sometimes even slip into relatively warm climate.
"Yet, to date, no directly attributable remains have been found to indicate that dinosaurs used feathers to survive in extreme polar habitats," says Benjamin Cyrus, a paleontologist at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. .
This does not mean that we are yet to discover a fossil from a feather in the Southern Hemisphere. The digging site in the southern US state of Victoria has provided some notable examples over the decades. They have simply never been looked at closely before.
"Fossil feathers have been known by Koonwara since the early 1
"Our study is the first comprehensive documentation of these remains, which include new specimens examined using avant-garde technologies."
A total of ten fossil specimens were included in the study, all dating from about 118 million years, providing solid evidence of wings of ancient bird feathers, dinosaur tufted dust, and even partially decomposed feathers on the body.
Technologies have included sophisticated forms of microscopy and spectroscopy, allowing the team to capture an impressive level of detail from well-preserved remains, providing information on their anatomy and – in some cases – staining.
Some of the feathers were relatively advanced, sporty barbed zippers, similar to modern feathers, which help them to block for flight and give the animal protection from the elements.
But simpler "fluffy" feathers, such as the ones below, are of particular interest.
'Dinosaur feathers' would be used for isolation, ”says the presenter, by Martin Kundrat from Pavol Jozef Safarik University of Slovakia.
"The discovery of proto-feathers in Koonwara suggests that fluffy fur coats can help small dinosaurs warm themselves in ancient polar habitats."
To understand the conditions in which these dinosaurs lived, we have to turn the clock back to hundreds of millions of years, when a known continent map on Earth would look a lot different.
Today's southern land masses – Antarctica, Australia, South America and Africa, together with India and Arabia – were lined together in a giant supercontinent called Gondwana, which sat more or less directly in the center of the Earth's South Pole.
The climate in the world was much warmer then and Gondwana was not a winter wonderland all year long. Instead, it was far more temperate, with lush ecosystems full of plants and animals.
While it was not exactly freezing, the poles still experienced long periods of sunlight in the summer and darkness in the winter. So anything living in such extreme conditions still has to deal with an extended, frosty twilight.
Having solid evidence of potentially isolating feathers helps researchers fill in the missing pieces.
The team also discovered densely packed fossil melanosomes or pigment bodies that show dark coloration, which can help absorb heat if it does not help camouflage or communication in those dimly lit months.
Ten years ago, Australian paleontologists found clear evidence of a 110-year-old "dino-marriage at another Victorian dig site, suggesting that at least some species could go underground to wait for the cold.
There is no doubt a wide variety of functions and behaviors that would help polar animals to live comfortably in such a changing environment; and it is nice to finally have solid evidence of them.
This study was published in by Gondwana Research .