A rainbow coloured feathered dinosaur fossil has been discovered in China

A fossil unearthed in northeastern China has revealed that a species of dinosaur that lived 161 million years ago had colourful feathers very similar to those seen on modern-day hummingbirds

It's an apt description of a newly discovered small dinosaur that lived in China 161 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.

The vibrantly coloured feathers are believed to be over the head, neck and chest. The idea of an airborne Caihong juji can not be completely dismissed, though the first known birds would not appear until 11 million years after this particular beast perished.

To determine the relationship between the melanosomes' shapes and particular colors, the researchers consulted a database, begun by researchers now at the University of Ghent, that holds thousands of scanning electron micrographs of melanosomes from modern birds in collections around the world. Dongyu Hu, a professor in the College of Paleontology at the Shenyang Normal University, led the study.

Caihong juji was tiny, about the size of a duck, with a bony crest on its head and long, ribbon-like feathers.

It's unclear exactly what objective 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.

"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers not, a weird feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", said co-author Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Science. After studying the fossilized remains of the bird-like dinosaur, scientists discovered that the dinosaur had colorful rainbow-like feathers.




"Iridescent colouration is well known to be linked to sexual selection and signalling, and we report its earliest evidence in dinosaurs", said researcher Julia Clarke of the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences. "The pigment in the feathers is black, but the shapes of the [cells] that produce the pigment are what make the colors in hummingbird feathers that we see".

Although the scientists discovered that Caihong had colored feathers, but they could exactly specify the colors of the feather. "It also had a funky crest of bone sticking up in front of its eyes, which was probably a display structure as well", said palaeontologist Steve Brusatte, who reviewed the study before publication. The researchers are expected to further deepen their study to know more about the rainbow dinosaurs and how they used their iridescent feathers.

The researchers stated that the dinosaur had iridescent feathers, which is still present on some species of modern birds. As Caihong's were on its tail, the creature likely used its tail feathers to fly. "This suggests that controlling [flight] might have first evolved with tail feathers during some kind of aerial locomotion". 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.

Caihong is part of a group of small, bird-like dinosaurs that lived in China during the Jurassic, but it stands out even among its closest relatives, Xu says.

"This combination of traits is unusual", said Clarke. "It has a velociraptor-type skull on the body of this very avian, fully feathered, fluffy kind of form".

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