Roughly 125 million years ago back in the Cretaceous, the province of Liaoning was full of lakes and forests, with a diverse fauna of dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Today it is famous for its exquisite preservation of its past inhabitants including feathered dinosaurs. One of them was Jianianhualong, a fluffy two-legged dinosaur, which was roughly the size of today’s turkeys.
While the discovery of feathered dinosaur fossils is no longer a big surprise, it is the type of Jianianhualong’s feather that makes it special.
Dinosaurs started sporting feathers long before they developed the ability to fly. Early feathers, however, were more of a fuzz than the quill-shaped vanes we are familiar with today. The capability of flight is said to arise when wing and tail feathers started to develop asymmetry, a feature seen in today’s birds. Such a feather is recognizable by its shape – it is wider on one side than the other.