Scientists discover bird-like dinosaur from China had 'rainbow' feathers

Posted January 17, 2018

The fossils of the chicken-sized dinosaur, which also goes by the name of Caihong juji (Mandarin for "rainbow with the big crest"), lived in China during the Jurassic period and was discovered as a near-complete skeleton in a slab of rock in 2014. Its rainbow feathers, which were probably used to attract mates-just like the iridescent plumes of peacocks-were a stunning discovery.

Eventually, they matched the pancake-shaped cells from Caihong with the shapes of cells in birds alive today.

An worldwide team of researchers, led by Dr Dongyu Hu of the Shenyang Normal University, found the immaculate fossil in the Hebei region of China. The plumage on its neck contain what appears to be traces of melanosomes - wide, pigment-containing packets that give feathers their colour.

A new species of dinosaur, first discovered by a farmer in north east China, likely sported handsome, rainbow-coloured feathers on its head, wings and tail, according to palaeontologists.

The colorful display of feathers common among hummingbirds has roots in a bird-like Chinese dinosaur from 161 million years ago, a new study finds.

While much of the dinosaur's body was covered in dark feathers, the head and neck had ribbon-like colorful feathers.

The Caihong was discovered in the form of a almost complete fossil discovered in China's Hebei Province.

The team saw microscopic structures in the exquisitely preserved fossil that indicated the presence of the bright plumage. By matching the melanosomes of the Caihong juji with those of modern birds, they were able to determine the colors.

"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers are not, a weird feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", said Xu.

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.

The dinosaur marks the earliest appearance discovered so far of asymmetrical feathers. While the Caihong juji now becomes the earliest-known creature to have pennaceous feathers, it's still not a clear sign that the dinosaur could fly. The melanosomes resemble those found in rainbow hummingbird feathers today.

Other interesting features of the dinosaur are the bony crest on its snout, a long and narrow skull, and its short forelimbs that recall modern birds. Caihong's were on its tail, suggesting tail feathers, not arm feathers, were first utilized for aerodynamic locomotion.

"I came out of the project with a whole different set of questions that I wanted answers to-when I open up a drawer full of birds in the Field Museum's collections, now I want to know when those iridescent feathers first developed, and how". "It has a rather Velociraptor-looking low and long skull with this fully feathered, shaggy kind of plumage and a big fan tail".

"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.