Ancestor of T. Rex Was a Feathered Dino

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The skull of an early tyrannosauroid discovered in western Liaoning, China i

The skull of an early tyrannosauroid discovered in western Liaoning, China. The skull has the distinctively square-snouted profile of its much larger and more famous cousin, T. rex. Xing Xu/Nature hide caption

itoggle caption Xing Xu/Nature
The skull of an early tyrannosauroid discovered in western Liaoning, China

The skull of an early tyrannosauroid discovered in western Liaoning, China. The skull has the distinctively square-snouted profile of its much larger and more famous cousin, T. rex.

Xing Xu/Nature
An artist's impression of what the feathered T. rex ancestor might have looked like. i

An artist's impression of what the feathered T. rex ancestor might have looked like. The primitive tyrannosauroid was about four-feet-long and lived some 130 million years ago. Portia Sloan / IVPP hide caption

itoggle caption Portia Sloan / IVPP
An artist's impression of what the feathered T. rex ancestor might have looked like.

An artist's impression of what the feathered T. rex ancestor might have looked like. The primitive tyrannosauroid was about four-feet-long and lived some 130 million years ago.

Portia Sloan / IVPP

The earliest-known ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex — the prehistoric world's most famous predator — sported short "protofeathers," scientists report in the latest issue of the journal Nature. The feathered remains of the primitive tyrannosauroid, which lived some 130 million years ago, were unearthed in China.

As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, the early tyrannosauroid was much smaller than its most famous cousin, T. rex, who lived some 65 million to 75 million years ago. Some scientists speculate the feathers evolved as an insulation mechanism to keep the animals warm when they were young, and were likely shed by the adults.

Researchers have christened the new feathery dino Tyrannosauroid Dilong paradoxus — the name means "surprising emperor dragon." It was discovered in western Liaoning, China, a region rich in fossils and the only place in the world that has yielded dinosaur fossils with actual feathers, not just impressions of them.

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