By Alison Fox
November 19, 2019

Preserved fossil feathers dating back 118 million years were found in Australia, leading experts to think that feathered carnivorous dinosaurs lived in the Land Down Under.

National Geographic reported on Monday, that the feathers most likely belonged to small dinosaurs to help insulate them from what was frigid temperatures in the southern polar circle in the early Cretaceous period. The findings will be published in an upcoming study in the journal Gondwana Research.

Paleontologists discovered the feathers at a site called Koonwarra, about 90 miles southeast of Melbourne. The feathers were likely lost during molting or preening, according to the report, and then drifted onto the surface of an ancient lake, sinking to the bottom and preserved in the mud.

“Dinosaur skeletons and even the fragile bones of early birds have been found at ancient high-latitudes before. Yet, to date, no directly attributable integumentary remains have been discovered to show that dinosaurs used feathers to survive in extreme polar habitats”, Dr. Benjamin Kear from Uppsala University in Sweden, a leading author on the study, said in a statement about the study. “These Australian fossil feathers are therefore highly significant because they came from dinosaurs and small birds that were living in a seasonally very cold environment with months of polar darkness every year”.

Courtesy of Melbourne Museum
Courtesy of Melbourne Museum

According to the report, Australia was once way further south and connected to Antarctica, forcing the dinosaurs living there to deal with months of darkness and freezing temperatures during the winters.

The site itself was found when a road cut into a hillside in the 1960s, according to National Geographic, and scientists have been conducting digs there over the past 60 years.

When you think of birds in Antarctica, penguins are the first to come to mind. And while these dinosaurs likely didn’t look anything like today’s penguins, they did appear to share some similarities: the study found most of the feathers could not have sustained flight, making it likely they were ground-dwelling carnivorous dinosaurs, according to National Geographic. And fossilized traces of packets of pigment called melanosomes were found in the feathers, meaning they could have been black, grey, brown, or had dark stripes.

© Peter Trusler

Scientists will continue to search for more developments on their findings, hoping to learn more about the prehistoric creatures that inhabited the earth before us.

“To actually find the skeleton of a feathered dinosaur here in Australia would be amazing,” Stephen Poropat, a paleontologist at Swinburne University in Melbourne, told National Geographic. “And as far as we know, Koonwarra is the site from which it is likely to come.”