Fluffy Dinosaur
A new depiction of Anchoirnis and its feathers. Rebecca Gelernter

A new study has revealed insights into the appearance of dinosaurs and their feathers, suggesting that the animals were fluffier than previously thought.

Using their findings, researchers from the University of Bristol also created what is perhaps the most accurate artistic depiction of any dinosaur species to date.

For the study, the team examined in close detail a small, exceptionally-preserved, dinosaur fossil – known as Anchiornis – and compared its fossilized feathers to those from other dinosaurs and extinct birds.

Modern birds are descended from a group of feathered, carnivorous dinosaurs known as paravians – which includes Anchiornis.

They identified a new form of extinct, primitive feather that would have given Anchiornis a fluffy appearance when compared to the more streamlined look of modern birds. But aside from their appearance, these shaggy feathers would have affected the animal in a number of ways.

Firstly, they would have created a large surface area that likely allowed for gliding. However, the feathers also lack some of the aerodynamic features found in modern birds, which meant that Anchiornis was unable to truly fly, as it would not have been able to generate the sufficient lift.

In addition, they may have negatively affected the animal's ability to control its temperature or repel water.

To create an accurate artistic depiction of Anchiornis, illustrator Rebecca Gelernter combined knowledge gained from previous research, which had determined the colour patterns of the dinosaur and the shape of its body, as well the recent study that revealed the appearance of its wings.

Fossil Feather Comparison
Fossil feather comparison: novel form versus modern form. University of Bristol

"Overall, our study provides some new insight into the appearance of dinosaurs, their behaviour and physiology, and the evolution of feathers, birds, and powered flight," said Evan Saitta from Bristol's School of Earth Sciences.

"The novel aspects of the wing and contour feathers, as well as fully-feathered hands and feet, are added to the depiction. Most provocatively, Anchiornis is presented in this artwork climbing in the manner of hoatzin chicks - the only living bird whose juveniles retain a relic of their dinosaurian past, a functional claw."

"This contrasts much previous art that places paravians perched on top of branches like modern birds. However, such perching is unlikely given the lack of a reversed toe as in modern perching birds."