May. 18th, 2014

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I still remember when I first heard about the discovery of Sinosauropteryx. Gorgeous close-up detailed images of the fossil were released in the March-April 1997 issue of Audubon Magazine. The first dinosaur ever found with feathers, Sinosauropteryx prima - a name that will forever remind people of its significance. Archaeopteryx was birdlike, yes, and in hindsight we see how dinosaur-like it is, too, but before Sinosauropteryx it was understood as a link between birds and reptiles, not dinosaurs specifically. The origin of birds from dinosaurs was a hypothesis that had been proposed already, but the prevailing thought was that birds had evolved from a different archosaur ancestor, something more crocodilian. But Sinosauropteryx was unambiguously a dinosaur - a Compsognathid, specifically - and it had a coat of feathers all over its body that were extremely well-preserved and extremely obvious.

Sinosauropteryx later earned another honor, when in 2010 it was one of the first to have its colors identified - a warm orange-brown, with bold white bands on the tail. It looks a bit like a lemur crossed with a reptile, really. Cute, even, for a predator.

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Lauren Helton

September 2014

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