Tiny bird-like dinosaur with rainbow feathers discovered
Beijing: Scientists have discovered 161 million-year-old fossils of a tiny bird-like dinosaur from China that sported flashy rainbow feathers and a bony crest on its snout to attract mates.
Researchers conducted the first in-depth study of the dinosaur named Caihong juji.
"Iridescent colouration is well known to be linked to sexual selection and signalling, and we report its earliest evidence in dinosaurs," said Julia Clarke, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
"The dinosaur may have a cute nickname in English, Rainbow, but it has serious scientific implications," said Clarke.
Aside from making Jurassic ecosystems of 161 million years ago more colourful, the dinosaur is interesting because it has features that are both ancient and modern, said Xing Xu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The bony crest is a feature usually seen in dinosaurs from earlier eras, while its neck feathers show evidence of microscopic wide, flat, pigment-containing packages, or melanosomes, that may represent the first known occurrence of iridescence similar to that found in a variety of hummingbird species living today.
"There are crests associated with sexual selection previously known only in earlier dinosaurs, and yet there is also a bird mechanism of signalling or display appearing for the first time," said Clarke.
Caihong is also the earliest known dinosaur with asymmetrical feathers, the feather type found on the wingtips of modern birds that helps control flight. Caihong had a long and narrow skull, and unlike many of these other dinosaurs, its short forelimbs show proportions more akin to modern birds.