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Regina Bailey

Dinosaur Feather Color Determined

By March 9, 2012

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This is a reconstruction of a Microraptor based on digital overlays of nine fossilized specimens.
Credit: AMNH/M. Ellison

Researchers have determined the feather pattern and color of an ancient four-winged dinosaur known as Microraptor. After analyzing a Microraptor fossil discovered in China, it was determined that the creature's feathers were iridescent with hues of black and blue. Comparable in size to a pigeon and in color to a crow, this winged dinosaur had anatomical features similar to a bird, but was not a bird. Microraptor was a non-avian dinosaur, in the same group of dinosaurs as Velociraptors.

According to one of the authors of the study, Mark Norell, "This study gives us an unprecedented glimpse at what this animal looked like when it was alive. There's been a lot of speculation about how the feathers of Microraptor were oriented and whether they formed airfoils for flight or whether they had to do with sexual display. So while we've nailed down what color this animal was, even more importantly, we've determined that Microraptor, like many modern birds, most likely used its ornate feathering to give visual social signals." The researchers also believe that Microraptor's tail was used for courtship displays as opposed to helping the bird during flight.

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