'Rainbow' Dinosaur Had Iridescent Feathers Like a Hummingbird

Posted January 17, 2018

Scientists on Monday announced the discovery of a crow-sized, bird-like dinosaur with colourful feathers from northeastern China that lived 161 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. Scientists believe the crest played a significant role in mating, along with the shiny feathers. That was a complete skeleton of Caihong juji.

Caihong juji gained its name thanks to its exquisite plums but also because of another feature.

That's because color isn't only determined by pigment, but by the structure of the melanosomes containing that pigment. 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.

The dinosaur's rainbow feathers might be a prehistoric version of a peacock's multicolored tail, one example of colorful plumage used by modern birds to attract mates.

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"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.

"Hummingbirds have bright, iridescent feathers - but if you took a hummingbird feather and smashed it into tiny pieces, you'd only see black dust", Eliason said.

The Caihong was discovered in the form of a almost complete fossil discovered in China's Hebei Province.

Researchers compared the imprints of pigment-containing cells to discover that a newly discovered dinosaur species had rainbow-colored feathers similar to those of a hummingbird. The Caihong juji had melanosomes shaped like flattened circles, which are quite similar to the ones found in a hummingbird's iridescent feathers.

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"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers are not, a weird feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", said Xu. But 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.

The Caihong is also the earliest-known creature with asymmetrical feathers, which birds use to steer while airborne. 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. While its distinctive feathers were a relatively recent evolution, it had several traits typical of much earlier dinosaurs, including a bony crest on its head. Of all the bird samples, the hummingbird came closest to the coloring of this odd dinosaur.

"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.

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".

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