Our new cat, Clive Bond, has a weakness: feathers.
Not necessarily operative ones; not the regimented wear of the blackbird or magpie, but those flirty, flighty numbers which tend to end their days on feather boas. Their impossibly soft pliable nature, combined with their teasing come-hither flyaway cluelessness, seems irresistible to a cat who is otherwise, a very masculine sort.
This morning we rose and dressed and I ran with the dog in the forest and when I came back I noticed a black shadow disappearing with something pink. He ran under my desk and endeavoured for all his worth not to be seen.
On investigation his quarry was a pink bunny-ears headdress (think Hefner) edged with plastic diamonds.
We named Clive after Clive of India, Bond after the redoubtable James. I never saw James Bond bedecking himself in pink flirty feathers. Shouldn’t he be tracking down large evil-eyed rats, battling yellow-tailed monsters in dark corners of the neighbourhood?
And then I happened upon a piece of prehistory which put the whole slinky feather-boa thing into context.
Once upon a time, everyone thought dinosaurs had just disappeared in some great catastrophic event. And then, in the 80s, people began looking once again at birds. And it seemed most clear that these small monstrous sweethearts were the biological bolthole of the great dragons of yore.
But we all know that Tyrannosaurus Rex did not look like a bird. He could not possibly have had feathers. That would be silly.
Dilong is a little, early tyrannosaur-type, a predecessor of the big guys. He turned up during a dig in near Lujiatun, Beipiao, in the western Liaoning province of China, roundabout 2004, and he turned everyone’s preconceptions on their heads.
Because Dilong had feathers. Not tidy feathers with a neat spine and waterproof imperviousness, but the scrappy duck-down sort. So that Dilong just looked a bit shaggy as he ran around, covered with these and scales as well.
But little tyrannosaurs are a long way from big tyrannosaurs. For too much fur, or feathers, or whatever,could have caused overheating in a great predator like Tyrannosaurus Rex, couldn’t it?
Not if you believe a fossil dealer from a remote Chinese province, it couldn’t.
I don’t have his name. But he approached archaeologists with a set of three fossils: an adult, a ‘subadult’ and a juvenile. He had found them all in the same place, he told the team of archaeologists: single quarry at Batuyingzi in Liaoning, the same province which gave us Dilong.
They’re big tyrannosaurs, Not Tyrannosaurus Rex yet, but much closer.
And guess what.
They have feathers. Not smart glossy well honed ones, but the type Bond adores: scruffy, flirty feathers, fuzzy dinosaur couture. They were up to 20cm long, and used for insulation (China can be nippy) and display. In fact they had wavy crests on their snouts which may, it is conjectured, have been used for display.
And so scientists are beginning to think that -if that Chinese fossil dealer is the real deal, the great macho king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Rex, could very possibly have had feathers.
Somewhere inside my small cat’s most primitive instincts, is it possible a sabre-toothed ancestral memory lies? Is he chasing the pink bunny feathers because it reminds him- even just a little – of a great monstrous dragon who walked this earth dressed head to toe in feathers?
Well, of course he is, silly.