The unusual fossil was found in Brazil and is the first of its type from South America to show evidence of feathers. The authors of the study think that the elaborate plumage would have been used for display and implied the dinosaur had sophisticated mating behavior.
“If confirmed, this find will be a significant discovery for two reasons: the first feathered dinosaur from southern continents and a bizarre display structure in a dinosaur from a relatively early lineage,” said Xu Xing, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, said via email.
“Similar structures have been previously reported from some very bird-like dinosaurs, but in those cases, the ribbon-like structures are attached to the tail, which is the normal, but in this new find, they are attached to the shoulder, which is unusual,” added Xu, who wasn’t involved in the research. He discovered some of the first feathered dinosaur fossils in China.
The animal would have lived around 110 million years ago.
A few birds today do have “decorated shoulders,” including the male standardwing bird-of-paradise, but they are rare, said David Martill, a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the UK and an author of the paper.
“We cannot prove that the specimen is a male, but given the disparity between male and female birds, it appears likely the specimen was a male, and young, too, which is surprising given most complex display abilities are reserved for mature adult males,” he said.
“Given its flamboyance, we can imagine that the dinosaur may have indulged in elaborate dancing to show off its display structures.”
The study was published in the journal Cretaceous Research on Monday.
Paleontologists now believe that many dinosaurs had feathers, or feather-like structures, but most of the fossil evidence to date has come from China and Germany.
The fossil was discovered in northeast Brazil’s Crato Formation by quarry workers mining limestone for paving slabs and was exceptionally well preserved.
It shows a section of the long, thick mane running down the animal´s back. Its arms were also covered in fur-like filaments down to the hands. The mane is thought to have been controlled by muscles allowing it to be raised, in a similar way a dog raises its hackles or a porcupine raises its spines when threatened, the authors said in a news release.
The dinosaur was named Ubirajara jubatus after a name in the Tupi language meaning “lord of the spear” and jubatus from the Latin meaning maned or crested.
Some Brazilian paleontologists have objected to the unusual fossil being taken from Brazil for study. Taissa Rodrigues Marques da Silva, a professor at Federal University of Espírito Santo in Brazil told CNN via email that “the paper is controversial because the Brazilian Constitution recognizes fossils as cultural heritage.”
The paper said the fossil is part of the collection at the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe in Germany, and authorization was granted for its export in 1995.