I feel bad even writing this (it doesn’t seem fair to give parents even more to keep them up at night) but a great piece the other day by the Monitor’s science writer, Pete Spotts, made us at Modern Parenthood wonder: Could the PBS Kids Barney be real?
The news, in case you missed it, is that scientists have discovered the remains of a great, big, fuzzy dinosaur – the first one that could be, well, Barney-like in appearance. (Pete assures us that it was not, in fact, purple, but we’re not letting down our guard.)
Since dinosaurs are big around here (most households with kids go through at least a short T. Rex phase, even if they miss Barney and Friends), we asked Pete to tell us more. Will this new creature change the image of Tyrannosaurus Rex? Will we soon see stuffed dinosaurs covered with feathers? (Hello, choking hazard.) Is there any chance that this Barney-like creature has modern day descendents?
Here’s his parent slice of the story:
Remember museum sleepovers, where kids jostled each other to unroll a sleeping bag under the towering, ferocious T. rex?
How intense would the jostling be if T. rex looked more like Barney? Not purple, perhaps, but still fuzzy – covered with chick-like, downy feathers?
A new look for T. rex is not out of the question now that scientists have found the first giant Tyrannosarus-like dinosaur covered with feathery down. The creature, Yutyrannus huali, lived between 145 million and 99.5 million years ago, stomping around what is now northeastern China. It is one of T. rex's ancestors.
Researchers studied three extremely well-preserved, nearly complete specimens. The largest of the three animals would have tipped the scales at about 1.5 tons and stretched 30 feet from snout to tail.
Scientists have found feathered dinosaurs before, but the creatures were much smaller. The little guys needed the insulation feathers gave them to help them retain body heat. Because of their bulk, big dinosaurs, however, are at greater risk of overheating than of getting too cold, so they didn't need feathers – or so the thinking goes.
Yutyrannus huali's downy coat suggests otherwise, at least in some cases. Scientists who made the discovery suggest that the creature needed the coat because it lived at a time when Earth's climate was cooler than it was during the later period when T. rex lived.
Some scientists say baby T. rexs may have had feathers when they hatched, but lost the coat as they matured and grew. This new discovery leads some researchers to suggest that even a full-grown T. rex may have sported feathers as well, although no feathery T. rex fossils have year appeared.
Hans-Dieter Sues, who is in charge of animal fossils at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., calls the new find “remarkable.”
“It's very intriguing to think of this very large fuzz ball running around with a mouth full of killer teeth,” Dr. Sues says.