Did you know dinosaurs had feathers?

At nearly 63 I’m learning a lot about dinosaurs. They’re fascinating and made more so by relatively new changes based on what paleontologists have learned and visualize.

They’re no longer pictured as being gray or brown or green like many members of the lizard family. They’re colorful, they’re striped and spotted. Some, like the spiky-thumbed iguanodon could have been a purplish gray. And many, including the terrifying T Rex — the king of the dinosaurs — had feathers.

I’ve been wondering how paleontologists could possibly know that the Tyrannosaurus and some other dinosaurs had feathers; like skin or hide, feathers probably wouldn’t survive the test of time.

On my recent Google search I just learned that most dinosaurs were more closely related to today’s birds than lizards, or so said Mark Norell, chair of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

But that still didn’t explain why some thought the T Rex had feathers. It wasn’t believed to be related to birds. I learned that the sinosauropteyx was discovered in 1996. It was believed to be the first feathered theropod that had nothing to do with birds.

The feature “Finally, you can see dinosaurs in all their feathered glory,” in the April 16 issue of National Geographic, about a new display by Mark Norell at the museum, shed a little light on my questions.

The feature, however, didn’t say why scientists thought that some theropods were feathered. It did say that the discovery changed the way they think about dinosaurs and how they looked and that the original “Jurassic Park” probably got it wrong.

One of the changes that came about was with the tyrannosaur. Paleontologists now believe the 23-foot-long, 9-ton beast was feathered. And right there in my grandson’s up-to-date “Children’s Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs,” it states they were feathered to help keep them warm. But I didn’t know any of that when I was a kid and didn’t really ponder it until more recently.

I went through the usual kid-phase when dinosaurs were just the greatest. I believe I still have a book about dinosaurs that my sister gave to me. She also took me to the Geology Museum at the School of Mines in Rapid City, South Dakota. I hadn’t started school yet, but I still remember seeing a fully constructed display as we entered the room.

Dinosaurs are a big deal in South Dakota, mainly because so many fossils have been found there.

Of course, my 4-year-old grandson is the reason my interest in dinosaurs has been recaptured. His knowledge of dinosaurs far surpasses anything I remember from childhood. I was pleased that I remembered the triceratops, the brontosaurus, stegosaurus and possibly a few others.

As Caden and I discuss dinosaurs on a daily basis, I’ve been careful not to mention the brontosaurus — that was of major importance when I was young. At some point in the last 100 years or so scientists discredited the mighty brontosaurus and decided it was really an Apatosaurus.

On a recent vacation to Rapid City, we took Caden to the must-see dinosaur display on Dinosaur Hill. This is a display of concrete dinosaurs created in the 1930s and now a historically registered site. I was both disappointed and yet delighted that no one had changed the name of the giant brontosaurus to an apatosaurus. Caden didn’t care. Since we haven’t discussed the brontosaurus or the apatosaurus he decided on his own that it was a brachiosaurus and was perfectly happy climbing around on its huge green and white concrete tail.

But then I just learned that more recently paleontologists came to believe that brontosauruses did exist, that they were enough different from the apatosaurus to go back to their original name. Hurrah!

At any rate, neither is listed in Caden’s encyclopedia.

The real reason why I purchased that book was that it appeared to contain the most recent theories and I liked the highly detailed pictures. And, most importantly, it told me how to pronounce their names. I don’t like stumbling through them. I want to get it right, especially when I quickly discovered this little boy was rapidly learning all the names and some facts about each dinosaur.

To date he has all of them memorized, but gets confused between Edmontonia  and Edmontosaurus. He also rolls over with a groan when we come to the picture of euoplocephalus. He got tuojiangosaurus right off, so I’m not sure what the stumbling block is, but then I still have to glance at the pronunciations of some of them and he doesn’t read yet.

Dinosaurs have been a great connection for us. We study them almost every night. And we got to take him to the Geology Museum in August when we visited my home state. Dinosaur Hill was fine, but the museum was a big thrill for him. When we walked in, he immediately told me that one of the huge displays was that of a mosasaurus. I had to read the display card and learned that he was dead right.

He was just so excited. There was the skull of a T Rex, a giant bone he could touch, displays of prehistoric shells, fish fossils and leaf impressions. … When we left the gift shop, he was holding a very good likeness of a T Rex — complete with color and feathers — in each hand.

It’s a good learning experience for both of us, each in our own ways. He’s thrilled to be learning about something he finds so interesting and he relishes all the praise he gets for being so smart. I enjoy our time together, watching him grow and learn, and believing that he is a smart little boy.

Now begins my quest for yet another up-to-date book about dinosaurs, complete with pronunciations for myself and feathers for the fun of it.

Click here to submit a letter to the editor about this post.