Dinosaur Discovered in China had Iridescent Feathers like a Hummingbird

Posted on January 15, 2018

Caihong juji

Vibrant feathers are not a feature solely associated with modern birds. Scientists found the fossil of a duck-sized species of dinosaur that lived 161 million years ago. It had iridescent feathers like a hummingbird. The rainbow colored feathers were located on its head and neck. Researchers say the colors would have shifted and shimmered in the light.

The species has been named Caihong juji. The name means "rainbow with the big crest" in Mandarin. The international team of scientists was led by Dongyu Hu, a professor in the College of Paleontology at the Shenyang Normal University in China. The announcement was made by The Field Museum. The research paper, "A bony-crested Jurassic dinosaur with evidence of iridescent plumage highlights complexity in early paravian evolution," was published in Nature Communications.

Chad Eliason, a postdoctoral researcher at The Field Museum and one of the study’s authors, says in the announcement, "When you look at the fossil record, you normally only see hard parts like bone, but every once in a while, soft parts like feathers are preserved, and you get a glimpse into the past. The preservation of this dinosaur is incredible, we were really excited when we realized the level of detail we were able to see on the feathers."

The use of big data is contributing to our knowledge of extinct creatures and a large and growing database of melanosomes was used to identify the iridescent feathers. Eliason says, "To find the color of Caihong's feathers, we compared its melanosomes with a growing database of thousands of measurements of melanosomes found in modern birds. 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."

Image: Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum