Scientists Find Rainbow Dinosaur's Fossil, Ancestor Of Today's Birds

Rainbow dinosaurs discovered in China that have colorful feathers like the humming birds

(C. juji is thought to be the earliest known example of this melanosome shape.) The dinosaur's melanosomes were arranged differently than a penguin's, so the researchers settled on screeching neon over somber black.

Microscopic structures in the exquisitely preserved, almost complete fossil unearthed in Hebei Province indicated that it boasted iridescent feathers, particularly on its head, neck and chest, with colours that shimmered and shifted in the light, like those of hummingbirds.

The new dinosaur species was named Caihong juji, which means "rainbow with a big crest" in Mandarin, because the well-preserved fossil indicated that the dinosaur had iridescent feathers on its head, neck, chest and around the base of its tail.

But while Caihong's feathers were a first, it had other traits associated with much earlier species of dinosaurs, including the bony crest on its head.

A 161-million-year-old fossil unearthed in China reveals that dinosaurs not only had feathers-some even had flashy ones. A study in the journal Nature Communications says the rainbow creature from the Jurassic period, close to the size of a chicken, was part of a group of dinosaurs that walked on their hind legs and had long wings.

A team of researchers, including scientists from The University of Texas at Austin, are the first to conduct an in-depth study of the dinosaur and describe it.

"The dinosaur may have a cute nickname in English, Rainbow, but it has serious scientific implications", says Clarke.

"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers not, a weird feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", explained co-author Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Science. On the other, the rainbow-colored feathers that cover the crest and neck provide very early evidence of melanosomes, organelles in animal cells that store light-absorbing pigments.


Researchers found that Caihong is also the earliest known dinosaur with asymmetrical feathers, the feather type found on the wingtips of modern birds that helps control flight. In modern birds, these appear in the wings and are used for flight control, but in Caihong juji, they appear in the tail - suggesting that early birds may have had a different flying style.

The shapes of melanosomes can help researchers infer coloration.

Iridescent feathers, which are found on some modern bird species, have a metallic sheen and change colour when viewed from different angles, giving them a "rainbow-like" appearance. "It is really cool ... or maybe creepy looking depending on your perspective".

While it possessed many bird-like characteristics, the researchers doubted it could actually get airborne.

"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. "It has a rather Velociraptor-looking low and long skull with this fully feathered, shaggy kind of plumage and a big fan tail".

The discovery was made in the Chinese province of Hebei and it 'suggests a more colourful Jurassic world than we previously imagined, ' said evolutionary biologist Chad Eliason.

Illustration by Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum, for UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences.

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