STL Science Center

STL Science Center

17 September 2011

To Feather or not to Feather?

Sometimes you just want to be smooth all over like this guy.
Sometimes the best images are the traditional illustrations, sometimes they're the most ridiculous. Sometimes it's the newer illustrations which are ridiculous and not always because we truly feel they look crazy but because, with maniraptorans particularly, they have slowly over the past decade all gained feathers or proto-feathering. That's not to say I think feathering is wrong, but sometimes a dinosaur just looks meaner and more intimidating without any feathers and then when feathers are added your mind changes gears to something more akin to "that would make a great pet" or perhaps "I wonder if that would eat my chickens or just go in there and lay eggs with them."

There is clearly nothing wrong with the older version of dinosaurs; an exception to that rule being illustrations pre-1970. However, illustrators need to stay current and with the times, so to speak, and the times they are involving feathers whether one likes the above version or not. Personally, I like both versions for their own reasons. I'm really liking this idea here to the right. Typical feathering, nothing special there, but the "chicks" are spectacularly amusing. Whether Dromaeosaur infants looked like duck chicks with longer tails and the ability to slash at everything with their feet and chomp down hard with that strong jaw or not is irrelevant for the moment. Most feathered or down covered infant dinosaurs are usually portrayed as lightly dusted in down that is grey or brown or black. This entire family's color scheme is identical to mallard ducks. I'd like to say for a predator they should have to be camouflaged, but who is to say that there weren't some species of dinosaur which evolutionarily decided to forgo camo for species identification and more brilliant display of color? Either way, I love the "chicks."

©Andrew Minniear
Leaving behind the interesting world of infant and adult duck-like coloration, I decided, as long as my permission is not revoked, that this anatomical series had to be in this week. The skeleton is wonderfully done and a great study in this dynamic pose. The musculature is wonderfully rendered and shows, very nicely, the strength of the jaws as well as the kicking leg, though the hips and upper leg are somewhat obscured. The final pose, the feathered finished dinosaur, is also well done with the outstretched arm open mouth and the colors on the feathers are nice as well. One thing I do have to say negatively about this is that the retracted claw is held as though it was a regular claw here. Regardless of whether or not Dromaeosaurs were grappling kill with the mouth dinosaurs or slash out the belly dinosaurs, that retracted claw would not be fully flexed in a run on account of the fact that maniraptorans with highly retracted claws, such as this or velociraptor or deinonychus and utahraptor, did not put weight on that retracting digit to balance themselves. It is sort of a major issue overall, but given the quality of the remainder of the illustration it's easily gotten over and can be forgotten when looking at the piece as a whole.

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