Newly discovered 'rainbow' dinosaur had shiny, colourful feathers like a hummingbird
Jan 17, 2018, 00:15
Based on different shapes of the cells, palaeontologists can predict the colouring of the dinosaurs' feathers, a technique that was first developed in 2010.
Microscopic structures in the exquisitely preserved, almost complete fossil unearthed in Hebei Province indicated that it boasted iridescent feathers, particularly on its head, neck and chest, with colours that shimmered and shifted in the light, like those of hummingbirds. This is why scientists have chosen the name Caihong juji for the beast, which translates in English to "rainbow with a big crest".
"There are crests associated with sexual selection previously known only in earlier dinosaurs, and yet there is also a bird mechanism of signalling or display appearing for the first time", said Clarke.
The fossilised remains were found in the north east of China and it's believed to have lived 161 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.
"Hummingbirds have bright, iridescent feathers, but if you took a hummingbird feather and smashed it into tiny pieces, you'd only see black dust", Chad Eliason, an author of the new study, says in a statement.
Scientists found a new bird-like dinosaur species that had rainbow feathers around its neck.
"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers are not, a freaky feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", says co-author Xing Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
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An global team of scientists studying the dinosaur, called Caihong juji, made the discovery by carefully analyzing tiny melanosomes, the part of the cells that contain pigment, in the fossil, which turned up dramatic evidence of the dinosaur's flamboyant plumage.
According to the scientists, the feathers of Caihong had pancake-shaped melanosomes akin to those of modern hummingbirds.
However, unlike birds today, Caihong's asymmetrical feathers were on its tail, not its wings - a finding that suggests that early birds may have had a different steering or flight style. Feathered dinosaurs are all the rage, and now we're meeting the flamboyant rock star of the feathery dino world.
The shapes of melanosomes can help researchers infer coloration. "To find the color of Caihong's feathers, we compared its melanosomes with a growing database of thousands of measurements of melanosomes found in modern birds", he says. It is also the oldest known example of a dinosaur with asymmetrical tail feathers, meaning that the vane on one side was bigger than on the other. "It is really cool ... or maybe creepy looking depending on your perspective".
In modern birds - the descendants of dinosaurs - colourful plumage is used to attract mates, leading researchers to suggest that the feature served a similar function when Caihong was alive, in addition to keeping the animal warm. "This combination of traits is unusual", said Julia Clarke, a co-author of the study and professor at the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences.
"This discovery gives us insight into the tempo of how fast these features were evolving", he adds.
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