Research press release


Nature Ecology & Evolution

Pterosaurs’ amazing coat of many textures



Baoyu Jiang、Michael Bentonたちは今回、約1億6500万~1億6000万年前に現在の中国に生息していた短尾型翼竜類の、保存状態が良好な2体の化石標本を、顕微鏡および分光イメージング技術で調べた。その結果、この翼竜類が4種類の外被を有していたことが明らかになった。すなわち、頭部、胴部、脚部、および尾部を覆うふわふわした毛皮のような断熱性の構造体と、頭部の一部と翼で見られる、現代の羽毛に類似した3種類の曲がった糸状の繊維である。


関連するNews & ViewsでLiliana D’Albaは、走査型電子顕微鏡法が今後さらに改良されれば、生きていた当時の恐竜類と翼竜類の正確な姿に関するより多くの手掛かりが得られるかもしれないと述べている。

Some pterosaurs were covered by a diverse coat of different feather- and fur-like structures, suggests a paper published online this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Early feathery structures were previously thought to be unique to the group of dinosaurs that includes the ancestors of modern-day birds. Instead, pterosaurs - the first vertebrates to achieve flapping-powered flight - are typically depicted by researchers as having fur.

Baoyu Jiang, Michael Benton and colleagues used microscopic and spectroscopic imaging techniques to study the fossilized remains of two well-preserved, short-tailed pterosaurs that lived in what is now China around 160-165 million years ago. The authors found that these pterosaurs had four different kinds of covering - including fuzzy, fur-like insulating structures over their heads, torsos, limbs and tails; and, on parts of the head and wings, three types of curved, thread-like fibres similar to modern feathers.

The different coverings are likely to have played functional roles in heat regulation, sensing, signalling and aerodynamics. The finding that pterosaurs had feather-like structures suggests either that feathers are either ancestral to both dinosaurs and pterosaurs, or that they evolved independently in both lineages.

In an associated News & Views article, Liliana D’Alba writes that, with future improvements in scanning electron microscopy, we may expect more insights into what exactly dinosaurs and pterosaurs looked like in life.

doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0728-7

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