Scientists discover 161 million-year-old 'rainbow dinosaur' with iridescent feathers

As per the skeleton, the dinosaur had a head and chest. The idea of an airborne Caihong juji can not be completely dismissed, though the first known birds would not appear until 11 million years after this particular beast perished.

But the physical structures of the pigment-containing cells were still intact, allowing researchers to compare their shape to other species.

An global team of researchers, led by Dr Dongyu Hu of the Shenyang Normal University, found the immaculate fossil in the Hebei region of China. These pigments were nothing but the remnants of an organelle called melanosomes. They dubbed it Caihong juji-a name that means "rainbow with the big crest" in Mandarin-and think the dino used its flashy neck feathers and a bony crest on its snout to attract mates.

Iridescent feathers seen on some modern bird species have a metallic sheen and shimmer and shift in the light, which gives them a "rainbow-like" appearance.

According to the press release, apart from livening up the Jurassic period, the Caihong juji has features that are both ancient and modern, said co-author Xing Xu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"Hummingbirds have bright, iridescent feathers - but if you took a hummingbird feather and smashed it into tiny pieces, you'd only see black dust", Eliason said.

Scientists in China have made a colourful discovery, a bird-like dinosaur with rainbow coloured feathers.

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During the study, the researchers found some clue of brightly colored plumage. It's due to their pancake shape and distribution that the feathers exhibit iridescence (the ability to change color as the angle shifts). As it turns out, that was enough for scientists to be able to tell what color the feathers were.

While it possessed many bird-like characteristics, the researchers doubted it could actually get airborne.

"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers are not, a weird feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", Xu says.

But while Caihong's feathers were a first, it had other traits associated with much earlier species of dinosaurs, including the bony crest on its head.

It is the earliest-known creature with asymmetrical feathers, a trait used by birds to steer when flying.

Asked what someone might say upon seeing Caihong, University of Texas paleontologist Dr Julia Clarke said, '"Wow!"

Describing this, the researchers mentioned that the flight controlling might have first evolved with tail feathers during some aerial locomotion. A comparative analysis of these melanosomes resulted in a close match with the iridescent, rainbow-patterned feathers found in hummingbirds. "It has a rather Velociraptor-looking low and long skull with this fully feathered, shaggy kind of plumage and a big fan tail". (C. juji is thought to be the earliest known example of this melanosome shape.) The dinosaur's melanosomes were arranged differently than a penguin's, so the researchers settled on screeching neon over somber black.

  • Carlos Nash