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

Australia Knights Prince Philip, Sparking National Outrage

Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment More

SAG Award Boosts 'Birdman' Oscar Hopes

Individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up: SAG awards went to artists who won Golden Globes: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons More

Katy Perry Lights Way for Super Bowl's Girl Power Moment

Pop star's selection to headline US football championship's halftime show extends NFL's trend of selecting artists who appeal to younger viewers 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.
Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sidesi
X
June Soh
January 23, 2015 10:03 PM
The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid