Jul. 8th, 2014

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Psittacosaurus mongoliensis is, like Edmontosaurus, one of those dinosaurs we thought we knew everything about until recently. There are actually at least ten species of Psittacosaurus known, and many are known from very complete skeletons. These are the predecessors of the horned Ceratopsians - hornless and frilless, bipedal, but beaked and herbivorous like their descendants. Skin impressions show similar skin to the Ceratopsians, with many hard round scales covering the body. But in 2002 a well-preserved individual was found with long quills attached to the tail. Whether these are related to the quills of feathers, or whether they're an entirely different sort of structure, is still unknown - they may be for display, or they may have, as some have speculated, supported a fish-like fin if that species of Psittacosaurus was somewhat aquatic. If they were related to feathers, then it opens up the possibility for other Ceratopsians to have body feathers as well, and suggests that the ancestor of all dinosaurs (or even further back, the ancestor of many archosaurs) might have been covered in fuzzy protofeathers like many early dinosaurs and even pterosaurs were.

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Lauren Helton

September 2014

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