Fossils of 'iridescent' dinosaurs with rainbow feathers discovered

by Joy Montgomery January 17, 2018, 0:15
Fossils of 'iridescent' dinosaurs with rainbow feathers discovered

The long and narrow dinosaur skull is similar to a Velociraptor's, a shape that is unique among other bird-like dinosaurs.

The Caihong was discovered in the form of a almost complete fossil discovered in China's Hebei Province. Sublimely preserved, the critter was dubbed Caihong juji, which is Mandarin for "rainbow with a big crest", in tribute to the microscopic structures in the fossil that suggest this Jurassic dino sported a coat of iridescent feathers, Michael Greshko reports for National Geographic. The bony crest represents a more ancient dinosaur feature, the University of Texas at Austin noted, while the iridescence, which could have helped it signal to potential mates, is newer.

Don't be fooled by the fossil's slate hue: Newly discovered Caihong juji, a winged dinosaur that roamed what is now China around 161 million years ago, was likely bursting with color-a shock of blue and green around its face, and streaks of orange highlighting its wings and tail.

The researchers published their findings this week in the journal Nature Communications. By looking at the feathers of C. juji with a scanning electron microscope, a team led by China's Shenyang Normal University was able to speculate about its once-dazzling coloration.

It's unclear exactly what goal was served by the rainbow feathers on Caihong juji's head and neck, but paleontologists speculate that it may have helped the winged dinosaur attract a mate.

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Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a paleontologist, said, "It is extremely similar to some early birds such as Archaeopteryx. It suggested that the asymmetrical feathers might first have developed from the tail, and the tail may be key to flying", said Hu.

The slab of rock containing the dinosaur fossil included a almost complete skeleton (brown) as well as feather impressions (black). The researchers compared these melanosome impressions to those from living birds and say that more than any other species, they resemble the melanosomes of vibrantly colored hummingbirds.

While it possessed many bird-like characteristics, researchers doubted whether it could actually fly. The dinosaur's asymmetrical feathers were on its tail - as opposed to on the wingtips - and were primarily used to keep warm, the researchers found.

"Asked what someone might say upon seeing Caihong, University of Texas paleontologist Julia Clarke said, "'Wow!' And if they are anything like me, they might want one as a pet. "It has a velociraptor-type skull on the body of this very avian, fully feathered, fluffy kind of form". "It is really cool ... or maybe creepy looking depending on your perspective". "Hummingbirds have bright, iridescent feathers, but if you took a hummingbird feather and smashed it into tiny pieces, you'd only see black dust", explained Chad Eliason, a postdoctoral researcher at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, in a press release.

Illustration by Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum, for UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences.

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