News / Science & Technology

Dinosaur with Colorful Plumage Discovered

Reconstruction of the plumage color of the Jurassic troodontid Anchiornis huxleyi. [Image courtesy of Michael A. Digiorgio]
Reconstruction of the plumage color of the Jurassic troodontid Anchiornis huxleyi. [Image courtesy of Michael A. Digiorgio]
Jessica Berman

Scientists have long speculated that dinosaurs were a dull brown or mottled gray.  But researchers studying the fossils of an ancient dinosaur say they've found new evidence the creature sported vibrantly colored feathers.  The discovery expands scientists' understanding not only of how some dinosaurs looked but also how they behaved.

US and Chinese Scientists reconstructed the plumage of a 150-million-year-old flightless dinosaur called Anchiornis huxleyi, using an electron microscope and thirty fossilized feathers that once covered the cat-sized creature.

Researchers focused their attention on chemical compounds in the feathers called melanosomes tiny, pigment-producing structures that formed in the feather during the creature's development.  They compared these structures to the melanosomes that determine the color of feathers on living birds, and were then able to figure out the colors of the ancient dinosaur's feathers.
 
Richard Prum, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University in Connecticut, says the melanosomes of the Cretaceous-era dinosaur, whose fossil remains were found in Lianong Province in China, were very well preserved. Prum says reconstructing the plumage of Anchiornis was like painting a picture by numbers.

"There was this moment when I had the pleasure to go back over the data and find out well, patch twenty-two, where is that on the body?  And patch seven where is that color? And fill in the blanks," said Richard Prum.

The result was a mostly gray dinosaur covered from head to toe with vivid plumage.

"The crest was a [light] brown color," he said. "And then what's quite striking is that it has brilliantly white wings with each of the white feathers having a black tip.  And also it had these elongated feathers on its legs, what in some dinosaurs have been called leg wings and the feathers of the legs have the same pattern of a bright white feather with a black tip."

If it were still alive, researchers say Anchiornis huxleyi would be a very striking creature.  Today, they say the dinosaur most resembles a bird called a Spangled Hamburg chicken.  The colorful feathers, says Prum, were probably useful in attracting mates.

Researchers believe they captured the appearance of the flightless dinosaur with ninety percent accuracy.  Prum says researchers plan to use the method to piece together the colors of other feathered dinosaurs.

"This is the first page in a field guide to the extinct feathered dinosaurs," said Prum. "And I fully expect within the next few years this book will get to be quite thick.  This kind of research is doable, and with access to material we should know a lot about the color patterns on the body of a lot of these organisms."

But Prum says it's hard to find enough feathers from a single dinosaur to reconstruct all of the colors of its plumage.  Another team of researchers recently reported on the existence of two pigments from different dinosaurs using the technique developed by Prum and his colleagues.

A study on the appearance of the ancient dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi is published this week in the journal Science.

You May Like

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs