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Earliest record of feathers found in tiny dinosaur

Last Updated: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 18:33

Washington: The colour and detailed feather pattern of Microraptor, a pigeon-sized, four-winged dinosaur that lived about 130 million years ago, has been revealed by a team of American and Chinese researchers.

The non-avian dinosaur’s fossilized plumage, which had hues of black and blue like a crow, is the earliest record of iridescent feather colour. The findings suggest the importance of display in the early evolution of feathers.

“This study gives us an unprecedented glimpse at what this animal looked like when it was alive,” said Mark Norell, one of the authors of the research paper on the topic and chair of the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about how the feathers of Microraptor were oriented and whether they formed airfoils for flight or whether they had to do with sexual display.

“So while we’ve nailed down what colour this animal was, even more importantly, we’ve determined that Microraptor, like many modern birds, most likely used its ornate feathering to give visual social signals,” he said.

Although its anatomy is very similar to birds, Microraptor is considered a non-avian dinosaur and is placed in the group of dinosaurs called dromaeosaurs that includes Velociraptor.

The fossilized specimen used in this study comes from rocks in Northeastern China that are about 130 million years old.

“With numerous fossil discoveries of birds and flowered plants, we knew that the Cretaceous was a colourful world, but now we’ve further enhanced that view with Microraptor as the first dinosaur to show iridescent colour,” said Ke-Qin Gao, a co-author of the study and researcher from Peking University in Beijing.

“Just a few years ago it would have been inconceivable for us to have imagined doing a study like this,” he said.

The findings of the study will be published in the March 9 edition of the journal Science.


First Published: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 18:33

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