Exceptionally preserved Mesozoic feathered dinosaur fossils (including birds) are famous, but recognized from only very few localities worldwide, and are especially rare in the Southern Hemisphere. Here we report an assemblage of non-avian and avian dinosaur feathers from an Early Cretaceous polar (around 70°S) environment in what is now southeastern Australia. The recovered remains incorporate small (10–30 mm long) basal paravian-like tufted body feathers, open-vaned contour feathers, and asymmetrical bird-like wing feathers that possess high-angled barbs with possible remnants of barbicels — amongst the geologically oldest observed to date. Such morphological diversity augments scant skeletal evidence for a range of insulated non-avian theropods and birds inhabiting extreme southern high-latitude settings during the Mesozoic. Although some of these fossil feathers exhibit what may be residual patterning, most are uniformly toned and preserve rod-shaped microbodies, as well as densely-packed microbody imprints on the barbules that are structurally consistent with eumelanosomes. Geochemical analysis detected no identifiable residual biomolecules, which we suspect were lost via hydrolysis and oxidization during diagenesis and weathering. Nevertheless, an originally dark pigmentation can be reasonably inferred from these melanic traces, which like the coloured feathers of modern birds, might have facilitated crypsis, visual communication and/or thermoregulation in a cold polar habitat.
- Early Cretaceous
- Mesozoic birds