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T. rex cousin sported downy feathers

'More like the fuzzy down of a modern baby chick than the stiff plumes of an adult bird,' scientist says.

T. rex cousin Yutyrannus hualiEnlarge
An artists' depiction of Yutyrannus huali by Lida Xing and Yi Liu. (University of Alberta/Courtesy)

Forget the leathery, scaly skin you've seen in the movies, turns out T. rex might have been one big bird, new research released today shows.

Fuzzy, downy feathers covered a Tyrannosaurs Rex cousin, making it the largest feathered dinosaur ever discovered, researchers reported today in the journal Nature.

The Yutyrannus huali – which means “beautiful feathered tyrant” in a combination of Mandarin and Latin – lived about 125 million years ago in northeastern China, the Chinese and Canadian scientists who collaborated on the new discovery said, CBC News said.

“They were more like the fuzzy down of a modern baby chick than the stiff plumes of an adult bird,” Xing Xu, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, said in a news release.

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Private fossil traders brought the new discovery to Xing’s team, Postmedia News said.

A Canadian paleontologist who worked on the Yutyrannus said researchers couldn’t rule out feathers covering much larger dinosaurs, including the T. rex.

“It’s possible that some dinosaurs that were even bigger had feathers, but we can’t tell one way or the other because most dinosaurs are known only from bones,” Corwin Sullivan told Canada.com.

The newest member of the Tyrannosaur family was about 30-feet long and weighed about 1.5 tons, and would've reached a T. rex's shoulder.

The Yutyrannus fossils uncovered in China show an adult and two juvenile dinosaurs, which probably weighed about 1,000 pounds each.

Researchers couldn’t rule out Yutyrannus using its feathers or plumage to attract mates.

“T. rex was larger and came along 53 million years later, but there has never been a trace of feathers found on a T. rex fossil,” Xing said in a statement. “Other smaller fossils from the Tyrannosauroidea super family have shown evidence of feathers, but Yutyrannus huali is by far the largest. … The discovery of Yutyrannus increases the chances that eventually a T. rex fossil will turn up with feathers on its head.”

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/120404/t-rex-cousin-sported-downy-feathers