Ancient Feathers Provide First Evidence of Color of Dinosaurs

Researchers studying the fossils of ancient birds have been able to reconstruct the colorful plumage of ancient birds, using the first evidence of the actual colors of dinosaurs. By examining microscopic pigment sacs called melanosomes found in fossil feathers, Yale University researchers were able to construct a color portrait of the Anchiornis huxleyi, a bird that has been extinct for 150 million years.

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Anchiornis huxleyi

Michael DiGiorgio
Anchiornis huxleyi
The scientists say the four-winged chicken-sized bird, which lived in China during the Jurassic era, had a gray body, a reddish-brown, Mohawk-like crest, speckles on its face, and white feathers on its wings and legs with black-spangled tips. “This is actual science, not ‘Avatar,’” said Richard O. Prum, an evolutionary biologist at Yale and co-author of the study, which was published in the journal Science. The scientists say the research supports the idea that dinosaurs evolved feathers not for flight but for other purposes, such as to attract mates, distract predators, or communicate. Similar research by British and Chinese scientists, published in the journal Nature, suggests that the 125-million-year-old species Sinosauropteryx had reddish-and-white rings along its tail.