Another Study Sheds Light on Dinosaurs' Feathers

A water color illustration of Anchiornis huxleyi, an extinct, non-avian dinosaur. Credit: By Michael DiGiorgio/Courtesy Yale

Last week, we got a glimpse of dinosaurs’ true colors. Now we have an even better picture of what a dino's coat-of-feathers might have looked like. Researchers reporting in Science have identified the colors of individual feathers belonging to Anchiornis huxleyi, a four-winged dinosaur of the late Jurassic. Turns out A-hux looked like--are you ready for it?...a chicken. A spangled Hamburg, to be exact.

A.huxleyi had “a rather spectacular plumage,” says researcher Derek E.G. Briggs, with a primarily gray body; reddish-brown, Mohawk-like crest; and white feathers on its wings and legs with black on the tips, according to the press release.

The team, which included Yale paleontologists, studied 29 feathers from the dinosaur, closely examining pigment-bearing structures called melanosomes embedded within. By comparing the fossil melanosomes with those known to create certain colors in living birds, they were able to paint a convincing portrait of A. huxleyi.

The results further support the idea that dinosaurs’ feathers were first used not for flight, but for display or camouflage. And for paleontologists who quest after reconstructing what other ye olde birds and mammals looked like, it’s a promising step. Hopefully James Cameron is listening—a pibald-plumed dino rocking a red Mohawk would look pretty awesome in 3-D CG.

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