Caihong juji's skull shape resembles that of a velociraptor.
A new species of dinosaur, first discovered by a farmer in north east China, likely sported handsome, rainbow-coloured feathers on its head, wings and tail, according to palaeontologists. The dinosaur had a crest on its head, a long wing and tail feathers, but it couldn't fly.
An illustration of Caihong juji, a newly discovered species of dinosaur from 161 million years ago that featured rainbow-colored feathers. The researchers are expected to further deepen their study to know more about the rainbow dinosaurs and how they used their iridescent feathers.
A team of researchers, including scientists from The University of Texas at Austin, are the first to conduct an in-depth study of the dinosaur and describe it.
Caihong is the earliest known animal with asymmetrical feathers and the earliest evidence to date of a species that may have had bright iridescent feathers.
"The dinosaur may have a cute nickname in English, Rainbow, but it has serious scientific implications", said Clarke.
According to the press release, apart from livening up the Jurassic period, the Caihong juji has features that are both ancient and modern, said co-author Xing Xu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Normally it'd be hard to figure out the color of a dinosaur, but in this case the fossil was so well-preserved that it contained traces of feather pigments.
Their shape determines the colour and Caihong's feathers had pancake-shaped melanosomes, similar to those of vibrantly coloured hummingbirds. "It suggested that the asymmetrical feathers might first have developed from the tail, and the tail may be key to flying", said Hu.
The slab of rock, found by a farmer in 2014, contained almost a complete skeleton. Lucky for the researchers, these impressions preserved the shape of the melanosomes.
Iridescent feathers, which are found on some modern bird species, have a metallic sheen and change colour when viewed from different angles, giving them a "rainbow-like" appearance.
"When we put these data on the evolutionary tree, we recognize two different ways of creating iridescent color in small raptor dinosaurs before the origin of birds", says co-author Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin. "It is really cool ... or maybe creepy looking depending on your perspective". Scientists also found asymmetrical feathers on its tail. The Caihong had many bird characteristics but scientists say it was unlikely to have gotten off the ground. "It has a rather Velociraptor-looking low and long skull with this fully feathered, shaggy kind of plumage and a big fan tail". Quanguo Li, a professor at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing and Matthew D. Shawkey, an associate professor at the University of Ghent in Belgium also participated in the study.