Found in China: Dino With a 'Rainbow Glimmer'

Jurassic Period's 'Caihong juji' had shimmering feathers like those found on hummingbirds
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2018 9:01 AM CST
Dinosaurs of an iridescent feather flocked together.   (Getty Images/BirdHunter591)

(Newser) – Scientists are now saying there may have been "a more colorful Jurassic World than we previously imagined," thanks to the recent discovery of a fossil in China's Hebei province. Reuters reports that a closer look at the "exquisitely preserved," almost completely intact fossil of a crow-like dinosaur that lived about 161 million years ago revealed that Caihong juji had luminous, brilliantly hued feathers that closely resembled those of hummingbirds. The study in the journal Nature Communications documenting the find explains that "Caihong" means "rainbow" in Mandarin. Scientists think the colorful plumage, which appeared to have covered the bony-crested creature's head, neck, and chest areas, may have kept the dinosaur warm, as well as attracted potential mates; National Geographic compares it to peacock feathers.

So how were researchers able to tell what color feathers the creature had from preserved bones? They used high-tech microscopes able to home in on 66 sites on the fossil, detecting tiny cell structures called melanosomes, which underlie pigmentation. Which colors they led to can be found by their shapes, and the melanosomes in Caihong were long and flat like pancakes—similar to those found in hummingbirds, which boast iridescent plumage. Although they can't pick out from the Pantone wheel Caihong's exact colors, researchers say the creature likely sported feathers with a "rainbow glimmer." Study co-author Xing Zu tells National Geographic that Caihong was a predator that spent its days gliding from tree to tree. And "glide" is the operative word, as this dinosaur likely didn't fly: Its feathers were located on its tail, not on its wings like birds, Discover notes. (A study postulated that nearly all dinosaurs had feathers.)

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