Forgotten trove of fossil feathers belonged to tiny polar dinosaurs

Enlarge / One of the spectacular feather fossils that has been sitting in a museum’s sample collection for decades. (credit: Melbourne Museum)

Researchers have described ten fossil feathers from the polar regions of the former continent Gondwana for the first time. The collection, documented in a recent paper in Gondwana Research, contains a highly diverse array of feathers collected from the 118 million-year-old Koonwarra Fossil Bed in Victoria, Australia. 

The paper describes what is potentially the earliest evidence of a flight feather, and the first-ever non-avian dinosaur feathers found within the Antarctic Circle. It also documents dark coloration and insulating branching structures on some of the feathers, providing valuable insight into how polar dinosaurs might have stayed warm during long, dark winters. 

The fossils were initially discovered in the 1960s, but most of the technologies and knowledge used to understand the feathers described in this study didn’t yet exist at that point. Since then, they were tucked away in a drawer in the Melbourne Museum for decades, until lead author Martin Kundrát happened across an old paper in 2012 that described one of the feathers. 

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