Dinosaurs with Feathers? New Exhibit Says Yes

It might be kind of hard to imagine a giant T-Rex covered with feathers, but that was likely the case according to a respected paleontologist and curator of a new dinosaur exhibition opening tomorrow here in Houston. Here's more from Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams.

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"Welcome to Jurassic Park."

It's far from the Hollywood depiction of giant, scaly monsters racing through jungles, the notion that many dinosaurs were actually covered with feathers and that some of them were simply fast walkers, not racers. Dr. Mark Norell is the curator of the new exhibition, Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He and his colleagues have used cutting-edge scientific methods to introduce a dynamic new picture of what dinosaurs looked like and now they acted.

"They're used to be all this stuff that people would just say about, well this is the way it was, but they didn't have any evidence, they didn't have any data. Now, we are actually doing real engineering experiments on things where we have new fossils that show the body coverings of these things or we can use very powerful computers or CT scans to visualize things that we never thought we'd be able to see before."

"Well, maybe dinosaurs have more in common with present-day birds than they do with reptiles."

In the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park, the movie scientists may have been closer to the truth than they realized. Norell says birds are today's version of dinosaurs.

"Just like humans are a kind of primate, birds are actually a type of dinosaur, so dinosaurs are still alive, they're incredibly abundant. Living birds are a kind of dinosaur and not only are they a kind of dinosaur, they're a kind of dinosaur that much more closely related to tyrannosaurus rex than tyrannosaurus rex is to just about any other dinosaur you've ever heard of."

The museum's David Temple says many dinosaurs could fly and exhibited very bird-like behavior.

"If they couldn't fly well they could do chicken hops and jump up on things and so a lot of them are covered with feathers. They even think t-rex, you think of t-rex as the big, scaly, powerful reptile. Now think of him covered with feathers looking more like a giant, angry chicken."

Part of the exhibit showcases dinosaur footprints found in parts of central Texas, where herds migrated from the north.

"So if we had a time machine, it wouldn't be too dissimilar from what you might see with wildebeest in the Serengeti. That's such a great migration. Well just imagine if you could see dinosaurs doing that and they were doing that right through here."

The dinosaur exhibition runs through the end of July at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...