Researchers Discover Dinosaur with Shimmering Rainbow Feathers Like a Hummingbird

Ebony Scott
January 17, 2018

A newly discovered species in China might have been the most visually festive, cheer-inducing dinosaur to ever roam this planet-a rainbow feathered, crow-like dinosaur from Northeastern China that lived during the Jurassic Period, 161 million years ago.

Normally it'd be hard to figure out the color of a dinosaur, but in this case the fossil was so well-preserved that it contained traces of feather pigments.

An worldwide team led by researchers from Shenyang Normal University in China and the University of Texas at Austin studied the dino fossil, which was discovered by a Chinese farmer in 2014.

A new species of dinosaur, first discovered by a farmer in north east China, likely sported lovely, rainbow-coloured feathers on its head, wings and tail, according to palaeontologists. Using a focused ion beam-scanning electron microscope, the researchers analysed the impressions on the fossil left by C. juji's feathers.

Paleontologist Julia Clarke from University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the Caihong and Microraptor, said that, "When we put these data on the evolutionary tree, we recognize two different ways of creating iridescent color in small raptor dinosaurs before the origin of birds". By finding birds with similarly shaped melanosomes, they were able to determine what kinds of colors Caihong may have flashed.

Caihong, however, could not fly.

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Comparison of the ancient melanosomes of Caihong with modern bird species revealed close similarities with the cells responsible for the iridescent plumage seen in hummingbirds. Its chest, neck and head feathers resemble those of hummingbirds. The best match turned out to be hummingbirds. The feathers would have shimmered and shifted in the light, similar to those of hummingbirds. It's much more likely that its feathers functioned as insulation and helped attract mates. 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.

"I was shocked by its beautifully preserved feathers, even though I had seen many feathered dinosaur fossils previously", co-author Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told National Geographic.

It is the earliest-known creature with asymmetrical feathers, a trait used by birds to steer when flying.

"This combination of traits is unusual", said Clarke.

Caihong's were on its tail, suggesting tail feathers, not arm feathers, were first utilized for aerodynamic locomotion. "It has a velociraptor-type skull on the body of this very avian, fully feathered, fluffy kind of form".

"I came out of the project with a whole different set of questions that I wanted answers to-when I open up a drawer full of birds in the Field Museum's collections, now I want to know when those iridescent feathers first developed, and how".

Other reports by GizPress

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