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Warm and fuzzy T. rex?

LOS ANGELES — The discovery of a giant meat-eating dinosaur sporting a downy coat has some scientists reimagining the look of Tyrannosaurus rex.

With a killer jaw and sharp claws, T. rex has long been depicted in movies and popular culture as having scaly skin. But the discovery of an earlier relative suggests the king of dinosaurs may have had a softer side.

The evidence comes from the unearthing of a new tyrannosaur species in northeastern China that lived 60 million years before T. rex. The fossil record preserved remains of fluffy down, making it the largest feathered dinosaur ever found.

If a T. rex relative had feathers, why not T. rex? Scientists said the evidence is trending in that direction.

"People need to start changing their image of T. rex," said Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The new tyrannosaur species, Yutyrannus huali, is described in today's issue of the journal Nature. Its name is a blend of Latin and Mandarin, which translates to "beautiful feathered tyrant."

A team of Chinese and Canadian scientists analyzed three well-preserved fossil skeletons recovered from a quarry in China's Liaoning province by a private fossil dealer. Most striking were the remains of down-like feathers on the neck and arm. Though coverage was patchy, scientists suspected the species had feathers over much of its body.

It would have felt like touching "long, thick fur," co-author Corwin Sullivan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in an email.