Rainbow-coloured dinosaur the size of a duck discovered in China

Faith Castro
January 17, 2018

Palaeontologist Dongyu Hu, the lead author of the new study, says the newly discovered dinosaur contained a curious mix of ancient and modern features, including iridescent plumage seen in some living birds.

A farmer in northeastern China's Hebei Province discovered the fossil, and the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning in China acquired the find in 2014. It's due to their pancake shape and distribution that the feathers exhibit iridescence (the ability to change color as the angle shifts).

The team saw microscopic structures in the exquisitely preserved fossil that indicated the presence of the bright plumage.

"Here we report a distinctive new Yanliao theropod species bearing prominent lacrimal crests, bony ornaments previously known from more basal theropods", researcher Chad Eliason of the Field Museum in Chicago, said as part of a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

An worldwide team of scientists studying the dinosaur, called Caihong juji, made the discovery by carefully analyzing tiny melanosomes, the part of the cells that contain pigment, in the fossil, which turned up dramatic evidence of the dinosaur's flamboyant plumage.

Their shape determines the colour and Caihong's feathers had pancake-shaped melanosomes, similar to those of vibrantly coloured hummingbirds.

While much of the dinosaur's body was covered in dark feathers, the head and neck had ribbon-like colorful feathers. While it possessed many bird-like characteristics, researchers doubted whether it could actually fly.

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Scientists found a new bird-like dinosaur species that had rainbow feathers around its neck. "It also had a funky crest of bone sticking up in front of its eyes, which was probably a display structure as well", said paleontologist Steve Brusatte, who reviewed the study before publication.

This is not the first time a sparkling dinosaur was discovered.

From here, the researchers are aiming to work out how Caihong developed such a unique look, something they describe as evidence of mosaic evolution, where distinct traits evolve independently from one another. It's the earliest known creature with asymmetrical feathers, a trait used by birds to steer when flying. "Its forelimbs were configured like wings".

'To be honest, I am not sure what function the feathers have, and I don't think that you can completely exclude the possibility that the feathers helped the animal to get in the air'.

Julia Clarke, a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences and the study co-author, informed that the iridescent coloration is linked with sexual selection and birds used those to attract females. And if they are anything like me, they might want one as a pet'.

A almost complete skeleton of Caihong juji - a name that means "rainbow with the big crest" in Mandarin - was discovered by a farmer in China's Hebei Province in 2014.

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