New Dinosaur Research: Microraptor’s Feather Color Revealed
A team of American and Chinese researchers, including scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, has revealed the color and detailed feather pattern of Microraptor, a pigeon-sized, four-winged dinosaur that lived about 130 million years ago. By comparing the patterns of pigment-containing organelles from a Microraptor fossil to those in modern birds, the scientists determined that the dinosaur’s plumage was iridescent with hues of black and blue like the feathers of a crow. Their results were published by the journal Science in March.
“This study gives us an unprecedented glimpse at what this animal looked like when it was alive,” said Mark Norell, one of the paper’s authors and chair of the Museum’s Division of Paleontology.
Although its anatomy is very similar to birds, Mircroraptor is considered a non-avian dinosaur and is placed in the family of “running lizards” like Velociraptor. Knowledge about Microraptor’s plumage could help scientists zero in on the evolutionary transition from non-avian dinosaurs to birds.
The research also shows that Microraptor’s tail fan, which was once thought to be a broad, teardrop-shaped surface meant to help with flight, is actually much narrower with two protruding feathers likely evolved for social interactions. This new finding suggests the importance of display in the early evolution of feathers.