Photo Credit: Marjorie Lipan
American and Chinese researches have studied a 120 million year old fossil of a Microraptor, and discovered that the little, four-winged dinosaur’s plumage shone with a colourful, iridescent sheen. They also discovered that its long tail feathers were not intended for aerodynamics, but indeed served a purpose much more like a peacock: to attract mates.
In the paleontological world, there has been some debate about the evolution of feathers and flight – when did it evolve for aerodynamic purposes? When was it intended for other purposes, such those we see in living birds today (thermoregulation, mate-attracting displays etc.)?
The Microraptor, discovered in 2003, was the catalyst for this debate, since it was the first four-winged dinosaur we had ever seen. Initially, its tail feathers were thought to be teardrop shaped, designed to give it lift. This latest research suggests the tail feathering was probably ornamental, evolved for dinosaur dating.
The study involved studying arrays of pigment-containing organelles called melanosomes in the fossil. The shape of these melanosomes, being uniquely narrow, and their density, suggested that the feathers were iridescent. Well-preserved fossilized feather imprints will contain melanosomes, and since the melanosomes structure is constant for a particular colour, an analysis of them will allow scientists to infer the colouration of these ancient beasts.
The magic of modern biotechnology – we can understand the colour of animals that lived over 100 million years ago. That astounds me.
It just goes to show that being sexy is a trait long held by residents of Planet Earth. Only now we don’t need to raise colourful plumage, but instead reveal colourful minds.
[Via Science Daily]