The discovery may push back the origins of molting 50 million years.
By David Isaac, World Israel News
An Israeli research team from Haifa University found evidence that the Microraptor shed its feathers like modern birds. Its findings were reported on July 15 in Current Biology.
The Haifa team noticed several short feathers in a fossilized Microraptor from China. It is evidence that the dinosaur shed its feathers gradually, called “sequential molting.” Modern birds do so as well in order to replace old or damaged feathers without losing the ability to fly.
Gradual molting has been traced back 70 million years. If the Haifa team is right, “the find would push back the estimated origins of sequential molting by 50 million years or so,” as the Microraptor existed 120 million years ago, ScienceNews reports.
The Israeli team included doctoral student Yosef Kiat and his mentor Prof. Nir Sapir of Haifa University’s department of evolutionary and environmental biology, as well as Amir Balaban, co-director of the Jerusalem bird observatory.
“It is fascinating to see how a mechanism that began at least 120 million years ago also exists in modern birds, and it is fascinating to see how we can harness the knowledge we have today about this mechanism and derive insights from it into life 120 million years ago,” Kiat said, Ynet reports.
There’s a dispute among researchers whether the Microraptor flew or merely glided. Prior research has argued that it could take off from the ground propelling itself with its back legs. The new findings may add ammunition to the argument the Microraptor could fly as it would mean it employed a method similar to modern birds, which use sequential molting to avoid becoming earthbound and easy prey.