I've said in the past that the lion's share of the really amazing fossils, in terms of preservation and importance, seem to be coming out of China in the last 10 years or so. But, now an exceptionally well preserved theropod dinosaur has been unearthed in Germany. And it's important too. It's a feathered theropod dinosaur that is only distantly related to the group of theropods that gave rise to the birds.
|A photograph of the new feathered dinosaur fossil, Sciurumimus albersdoerferi. The scale bar shows 5 cm, so, as it's name suggests, it's about the size of a squirrel (image taken from the paper).|
The researchers gave it the name Sciurumimus albersdoerferi. The genus name means squirrel mimic because the feathers on its tail make it bushy like a squirrel's. The species name is given in honour of Raimund Albersdörfer, who made the specimen available to the researchers for their study.
The fossil is important for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is distantly related to other theropod dinosaurs that we know for sure had feathers. Which pushes the evolution of feathers back closer to the common ancestor of all theropods. Combine this with the evidence that some heterodontosaurs had feathers and the hypothesis that the common ancestor of all dinosaurs was feathered gains some weight. But, the independent evolution of feathers in the theropods and heterodontosaurs is far from refuted.
The other reason this fossil is important is that it is the best preserved fossil megalosauroid thus far discovered. Indeed, it provides the only complete megalosauroid skeleton. Therefore it provides evidence that helps resolve several questions about the evolution of traits in theropods, such as the evolution of bones in the hand.
An interesting side note is that this fossil is of a very young individual, which probably died soon after hatching. Therefore, the bushy tail is almost certainly not a sexually selected character. This pours some cold water on the hypothesis that feathers evolved in dinosaurs primarily as a means to signal mate quality, which was claimed in another recent paper.