Rainbow-feathered bird-like dinosaur discovered in China


The almost complete Caihong juji fossil unearthed by paleontologist in China is believed to be 161 million years old, and its asymmetrical feathers are similar to the feathers used by bird to steer while flying.

A farmer in northeastern China's Hebei Province discovered the fossil, and the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning in China acquired the find in 2014. The scientists have named the ancient bird-like dinosaur as Caihong juji, Mandarin for "rainbow with the big crest".

By examining the fossilized feathers under a microscope, researchers detected structures that hint at possible colors. The deep analysis also revealed that the melanosome that those creatures had is quite similar to feathers found in hummingbirds.

Paleontologist Julia Clarke from University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the Caihong and Microraptor, said that, "When we put these data on the evolutionary tree, we recognize two different ways of creating iridescent color in small raptor dinosaurs before the origin of birds".

Furthermore, Caihong's Velociraptor-like skull and short forelimbs gave it the shape similar to modern birds and set it apart from its closest relatives, a group of bird-like dinosaurs that lived in China during the Jurassic.

Part of what makes Caihong interesting is its combination of features - they are reminiscent of older and newer animals.

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"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 best match turned out to be hummingbirds.

The researchers determined the dinosaur's colorful characteristics by inspecting imprints left by melanosomes, which The Field Museum describes as the "part of cells that contain pigments". 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.

"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers are not, a weird feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", says co-author Xing Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"I was shocked by its beautifully preserved feathers, even though I had seen many feathered dinosaur fossils previously", co-author Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told National Geographic.

Caihong's were on its tail, not on it's arm feathers - suggesting that the tail was first utilised for flight. As with some modern-day birds, the flashy appearance may have helped with attracting mates.

This is not the first time a sparkling dinosaur was discovered. "It also had a funky crest of bone sticking up in front of its eyes, which was probably a display structure as well". "It has a velociraptor-type skull on the body of this very avian, fully feathered, fluffy kind of form".