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The Chinese “rainbow dinosaur” had iridescent feathers like hummingbirds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – There's no gold mine at the end of the rainbow. There is an iridescent dinosaur.

Scientists announced on Monday the discovery of a dinosaur similar to a crow-sized bird with colorful feathers from northeastern China that lived 161 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.

They called it Caihong, the word tangerine for rainbows. The microscopic structures in the exquisitely preserved, almost complete fossil unearthed in the province of Hebei indicated that it had iridescent feathers, particularly on the head, neck and chest, with colors that shone and moved in the light, like those of hummingbirds .

The discovery "suggests a Jurassic world more colorful than we imagined," said evolutionary biologist Chad Eliason of the Field Museum in Chicago, one of the researchers in the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Using powerful microscopes, scientists detected within the feathers the remains of organelles called melanosomes responsible for pigmentation. Its shape determines the color. The Caihong feathers had pancake-shaped melanosomes similar to those of hummingbirds with iridescent feathers.

An illustration of a reconstruction of the iridescent dinosaur that had rainbow feathers, called Caihong juji, unearthed in China, is shown in this photo of October 31, 2016 published on January 15, 2018. Illustration by Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum / Brochure through REUTERS

Much of his body had dark feathers, but iridescent ribbon-shaped feathers covered his head and neck. Although it had many characteristics similar to those of birds, the researchers doubted that it could really fly. His plumage could have attracted companions while providing isolation.

Caihong was a two-legged predator with a Velociraptor skull and sharp teeth, probably hunting small mammals and lizards. It had ridges over its eyes that looked like bony eyebrows.

Many dinosaurs had feathers. The birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs near the end of the Jurassic Period. Caihong had fuzzy feathers and pennaceae, which look like writing pens. It is the oldest known creature with asymmetric feathers, a feature used by birds to stay behind the wheel. Caihong's were on their tail, suggesting that the feathers of the tail, not the feathers of the arms, were used for the first time for aerodynamic locomotion.

"It is extremely similar to some early birds such as Archeopteryx," said paleontologist Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, referring to the oldest known bird, which lived 150 million years ago. "Your forelimbs were shaped like wings, to be honest, I'm not sure what function the feathers have, and I do not think you can completely exclude the possibility that the feathers have helped the animal get out into the air."

He was asked what anyone could say when he saw Caihong, a paleontologist at the University of Texas, Julia Clarke, said: "Wow!" And if they look like me, they might want one as a pet. Not suitable for children. "

The full scientific name of the dinosaur, Caihong juji, means" rainbow with a large ridge. "

Will Dunham's report, Sandra Maler's edition

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