Published: Wed, January 17, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Chicken-sized dinosaur likely used brightly colored feathers to woo mates

Chicken-sized dinosaur likely used brightly colored feathers to woo mates

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.

The creature has been named Caihong juji, meaning "rainbow with the big crest" in Mandarin. The shapes of those melanosomes were preserved in some of this dinosaur's feathers, according to the study, and the team analyzed them to find that they were comparable to the kind that give hummingbirds their iridescent, rainbow-colored feathers. It's due to their pancake shape and distribution that the feathers exhibit iridescence (the ability to change color as the angle shifts).

"I was shocked by its beautifully preserved feathers, even though I had seen many feathered dinosaur fossils previously", said Xing Xu, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a co-author of the study. Its plumage could have attracted mates while also providing insulation.

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Scientists have an idea about the colors of the feathers because of cellular structures called melanosomes that create pigment.

"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.

The dinosaur marks the earliest appearance discovered so far of asymmetrical feathers. The discovery indicates that parts of Caihong's feather coat were luminous and multicolored, like a hummingbird's throat. "We were really excited when we realised the level of detail we were able to see on the feathers".

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Eventually, they matched the pancake-shaped cells from Caihong with the shapes of cells in birds alive today. These dinosaur melanosomes showed similarities with the cells that cause the colourful plumage seen in hummingbirds. However, despite sharing features with modern avians, Caihong would not have been able to fly.

"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers are not, a freakish feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", said Xu. "It also had a funky crest of bone sticking up in front of its eyes, which was probably a display structure as well", said paleontologist Steve Brusatte, who reviewed the study before publication. While modern birds' asymmetrical feathers are on their wingtips, Caihong's were on its tail.

Describing this, the researchers mentioned that the flight controlling might have first evolved with tail feathers during some aerial locomotion. "It has a velociraptor-type skull on the body of this very avian, fully feathered, fluffy kind of form". "This combination of traits is rather unusual", says co-author Julia Clarke of the University of Texas at Austin.

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