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This dashing dinosaur rocked a rainbow around its neck

This dashing dinosaur rocked a rainbow around its neck”

A 161-million-year-old fossil unearthed in China reveals that dinosaurs not only had feathers-some even had flashy ones. Its rainbow feathers, which were probably used to attract mates-just like the iridescent plumes of peacocks-were a stunning discovery. 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. The meaning of this is rainbow with a big crest in the Mandarin language.

Microscopic organelles - functioning parts within a cell - called melanosomes are responsible for pigmentation.

An global team led by researchers from Shenyang Normal University in China and the University of Texas at Austin studied the dino fossil, which was discovered by a Chinese farmer in 2014.

"The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers not, a freaky feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds", explained co-author Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Science.

"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.

A new bird-like dinosaur was discovered in the North-East of China, in the Hebei Province. It's due to their pancake shape and distribution that the feathers exhibit iridescence (the ability to change color as the angle shifts).

Researchers compared the imprints of pigment-containing cells to discover that a newly discovered dinosaur species had rainbow-colored feathers similar to those of a hummingbird.

"There are crests associated with sexual selection previously known only in earlier dinosaurs, and yet there is also a bird mechanism of signalling or display appearing for the first time", said Clarke.

The Caihong is also the earliest-known creature with asymmetrical feathers, which birds use to steer while airborne. Caihong's asymmetrical feathers were located on its tail. "This suggests that controlling [flight] might have first evolved with tail feathers during some kind of aerial locomotion".

"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". While the Caihong juji now becomes the earliest-known creature to have pennaceous feathers, it's still not a clear sign that the dinosaur could fly. Its head is very similar to a Velociraptor's, with a bony crest running between the eyes. "It has a rather Velociraptor-looking low and long skull with this fully feathered, shaggy kind of plumage and a big fan tail. It is really cool ... or maybe creepy looking depending on your perspective", said University of Texas paleontologist Julia Clarke.

Iridescent feathers, which are found on some modern bird species, have a metallic sheen and change colour when viewed from different angles, giving them a "rainbow-like" appearance.



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