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Ancestor of T. Rex Was a Feathered Dino

The earliest-known ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex -- the prehistoric world's most famous predator -- sported short "protofeathers," scientists report in the latest issue of the journal Nature. The feathered remains of the primitive tyrannosauroid, which lived some 130 million years ago, were unearthed in China.

As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, the early tyrannosauroid was much smaller than its most famous cousin, T. rex, who lived some 65 million to 75 million years ago. Some scientists speculate the feathers evolved as an insulation mechanism to keep the animals warm when they were young, and were likely shed by the adults.

Researchers have christened the new feathery dino Tyrannosauroid Dilong paradoxus -- the name means "surprising emperor dragon." It was discovered in western Liaoning, China, a region rich in fossils and the only place in the world that has yielded dinosaur fossils with actual feathers, not just impressions of them.

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Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.