Dino Feathers and Feather-like Structures

Dino Feathers and Feather-like Structures

Use this infographic to explore dinosaurs and the evolution of feathers and feather-like structures.


5 - 8


Biology, Genetics

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...

Idea for Use in the Classroom

Begin by having students describe the dinosaurs they have seen in books or movies. Then introduce the infographic and compare their descriptions to the dinosaurs in the family tree. Have students practice using the key by identifying which dinosaurs showed no evidence of filaments or feathers, then listing which dinosaurs had the types of feathers seen in living birds. Ask: Based on your observations, what patterns exist within the family tree? Have students use their observations to deduce the purpose and structure of a family tree (or cladogram).

Next, have students analyze the Ornithischian group to propose further branching based on shared characteristics. Discuss what this implies about Ornithischian evolution. Students can perform research to verify their branching patterns.

Refocus on birds by asking: Why might scientists consider Archaeopteryx a transitional form between nonavian dinosaurs and modern birds? Then have students identify patterns of characteristics within the Aves group. Students should find evidence that some characteristics are gained or lost over time. Build upon this idea by having students brainstorm why the common ancestor, basal archosaurs, might have had fuzz, while not all of its descendants do. This can lead to a discussion of natural selection and inheritance of favorable traits.

Finally, extend the initial discussion by having students consider why older books and movies depict dinosaurs with skin, but not feathers.After fielding responses, ask: Why might scientists have not known about the presence of feathers until recently? Students may note decomposition, consumption, or general destruction as reasons for an incomplete fossil record. Conclude by having students research how scientists finally found evidence of feathers and feather-like structures on dinosaurs.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources