Temporal range: Early Cretaceous, 124.6Ma
|Artist's restoration of Yutyrannus, based on ELDM V1001|
Xu et al., 2012
|Species:||† Y. huali|
Xu et al., 2012
Yutyrannus (meaning "feathered tyrant") is a genus of tyrannosauroid dinosaurs which contains a single species, Yutyrannus huali. This species lived during the early Cretaceous period in what is now northeastern China. Three fossils of Y. huali, all found in the rock beds of Liaoning Province, are currently the largest known dinosaur specimens that preserve direct evidence of feathers.
Discovery and naming
Yutyrannus huali was named and scientifically described in 2012 by Xu Xing et al. The name is derived from Mandarin Chinese yu (羽, "feather") and Latinised Greek tyrannos (τύραννος, "tyrant"), a reference to the classification as a feathered member of the Tyrannosauroidea. The specific name consists of the Mandarin huáli (华丽, "beautiful"), in reference to the beauty of the plumage.
Yutyrannus is known from three nearly complete fossil specimens (an adult, a subadult and a juvenile) acquired from a fossil dealer who claimed all three had their provenance in a single quarry at Batuyingzi in Liaoning Province, China. They thus probably were found in a layer of the Yixian Formation, dating from the Aptian, about 125 million years old. The specimens had been cut into pieces about the size of bath mats, which could be carried by two people.
The holotype, ZCDM V5000, is the largest specimen, consisting of a nearly complete skeleton with skull, compressed on a slab, of an adult individual. The paratypes are the two other specimens: ZCDM V5001 consisting of a skeleton of a smaller individual and part of the same slab as the holotype; and ELDM V1001, a juvenile estimated to have been eight years younger than the holotype. The fossils are part of the collections of the Zhucheng Dinosaur Museum and the Erlianhaote Dinosaur Museum but have been prepared by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, under guidance of Xu.
Yutyrannus were gigantic bipedal predators. The holotype and oldest-known specimen has a length of 9 metres (30 ft) and an estimated weight of about 1,414 kg (3,120 lb). Its skull has an estimated length of 905 millimetres (35.6 in). The skulls of the paratypes are 80 centimetres (31 in) and 63 centimetres (25 in) long and their weights have been estimated at 596 kilograms (1,310 lb) and 493 kilograms (1,090 lb) respectively.
The describers established some diagnostic traits of Yutyrannus, in which it differs from its direct relatives. The snout features a high midline crest, formed by the nasals and the premaxillae and which is covered by large pneumatic recesses. The postorbital has a small secondary process, jutting into the upper hind corner of the eye socket. The outer side of the main body of the postorbital is hollowed out. In the lower jaw, the external mandibular fenestra, the main opening in the outer side, is mainly located in the surangular.
While it has been known since 2004, upon the description of Dilong, that at least some tyrannosauroids possess filamentous "stage 1" feathers, according to the feather typology of Richard Prum, Y. huali is currently the largest known species of dinosaur with direct evidence of feathers, forty times heavier than the previous record holder, Beipiaosaurus. The feathers were long, up to 20 centimetres (7.9 in), and filamentous. Because the quality of the preservation was low, it could not be established whether the filaments were simple or compound, broad or narrow. The feathers covered various parts of the body. With the holotype they were present on the pelvis and the foot. Specimen ZCDM V5000 had feathers on the tail pointing backwards under an angle of 30° with the tail axis. The smallest specimen showed 20 centimetres (7.9 in) long filaments on the neck and 16 centimetres (6.3 in) long feathers at the upper arm. Based on this distribution, they may have covered the whole body and served in regulating temperature, given the rather cold climate of the Yixian with an average annual temperature of 10°C (50°F). Alternatively, if they were restricted to the regions in which they were found, they may have served as display structures. In addition, the two adult specimens had distinctive, "wavy" crests on their snouts, on both sides of a high central crest, which were probably used for display. The presence of feathers on a large basal tyrannosauroid suggests the possibility that later tyrannosaurids were also feathered, even when adult, despite their size. However, scaly skin impressions have been reported from Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids on parts of the body where Yutyrannus had feathers, with no evidence of plumage; if naked or scaly skin was the dominant epidermal trait of later genera, the extent and nature of the integumentary covering may have changed over time in response to body size, a warmer climate, or other factors.
The scientists who first described Yutyrannus classified it in the group Tyrannosauroidea. A cladistic analysis of its relationship to other tyrannosauroids showed that it was more primitive than Eotyrannus in the evolutionary tree, but more advanced than tyrannosauroids such as Dilong, Guanlong and Sinotyrannus. Primitive traits relative to advanced tyrannosaurs included long forelimbs with three fingers and a short foot which was not specialized for running. Advanced traits included a large and deep skull, the outer side of the premaxilla having rotated upwards, a large cuneiform horn on the lacrimal in front of the eye socket, a postorbital process on the back rim of the eye socket, the squamosal and the quadratojugal forming a large process on the back rim of the infratemporal fenestra, short dorsal vertebrae, an ilium with a straight upper rim and an appending lobe, a large pubic foot and a slender ischium.
British palaeontologist Darren Naish pointed out that the species resembles carcharodontosaurian allosauroids such as Concavenator, especially in some for a tyrannosauroid unusual features of the skull, such as the pneumatic recesses on the snout crest, the secondary postorbital process and the form of the postorbital boss.
The knowledge of specimens representing various different ages has allowed paleontologists to determine the ontogeny, or change during growth, of this species. During growth the lower legs, feet, ilia and forelimbs became relatively smaller. The skull, on the other hand, grew more robust and deeper.
- Wilford, John N (4 April 2012). "Bus-Size Dinosaurs, as Fuzzy as Chicks". The New York Times.
- Xu, X.; Wang, K.; Zhang, K.; Ma, Q.; Xing, L.; Sullivan, C.; Hu, D.; Cheng, S. et al. (2012). "A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China" (PDF). Nature 484: 92–95. doi:10.1038/nature10906. PMID 22481363.
- Zimmer, Carl (4 April 2012), "The One-Ton Turkey: Further Adventures in Slow-Cooked Science", Discover, The Loom, retrieved 7 April 2012 (with illustrations)
- Naish, Darren (4 April 2012), "There are giant feathered tyrannosaurs now...right?", Scientific American, Tetrapod Zoology Blogs, retrieved 5 April 2012
- Welsh, Jennifer (5 April 2012). "Humongous fuzzy dinosaur unearthed in China". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 5 April 2012.