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Wednesday, June 24, 1998 Published at 06:54 GMT 07:54 UK


Yes - it is a bird

Watch the birdie - or is it a dinosaur? The model of Caudipteryx in a glass case

When it comes to dinosaurs, scientists would most like to know two things - were they related to birds and were they warm or cold-blooded? It seems the latter question has been answered. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse reports.

Some scientists believe that the birds around us today are the living descendants of the dinosaurs that ruled the earth for 150 million years.

The evidence for this is that their skeletons have some similarities, they both laid eggs and, according to some palaeontologists, traces of feathers are evident in some dinosaur fossils.

Model goes on show

Scientist Phil Currie: "Perhaps dinosaurs are not extinct at all"
Strong support for this theory seems now to have come from north-western China, a region rich in dinosaur fossils.

American, Canadian and Chinese scientists have uncovered several fossils of what are believed to be feathered dinosaurs.

A close-up of the model of Caudipteryx, an animal with features of a theropod dinosaur but with feathers over its body, found in China's Liaoning Province, has been unveiled in Washington.

According to the scientists, the fossils present the strongest evidence yet that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

A member of the team, Phil Currie, said: "A great deal of attention has been put on the fact that dinosaurs may have given rise to birds.

"It's been controversial and if you follow through with that interpretation, then perhaps dinosaurs are not extinct at all, they're still alive and well and well represented by more than 10 thousand species of living birds."

The fossils are on display at the National Geograhic Society's Explorers Hall in Washington.

Feathers still flying

[ image: A Velociraptor from Jurassic Park]
A Velociraptor from Jurassic Park
One species appears similar to the fearsome Velociraptor - made famous by the film Jurassic Park - although the raptors in the blockbuster were twice their actual size.

Fossil impressions suggest that it had a switch of feathers at the end of its tail.

Another creature appears to have had feathers on its tail as well as its forearms. This dinosaur falls on the family tree somewhere between the Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx, the first bird.

It is unlikely that any of the newly discovered feathered dinosaurs could have flown so the function of the feathers is a matter of lively speculation.

This finding demonstrates that feathers pre-dated the origin of birds and strengthens the belief that all the dinosaurs did not perish 65 million years ago after an impact with an asteroid.

They may have lived on as the birds we see around us today.

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