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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid