Microraptor’s true blue colors

Dinosaur had black iridescent feathers

The birdlike dinosaur Microraptor wore black — with a hint of blue. That means the dinosaur, which spread its four wings more than 120 million years ago, sported the oldest iridescent feathers discovered to date, an international team of researchers reports in the March 9 Science.

Fossilized Microraptor remains have revealed the color of the birdlike dinosaur’s plumage: black with a touch of iridescent blue. M. Ellison

An artist’s illustration depicts the shiny plumage and long tail feathers that adorned the birdlike dinosaur Microraptor. Jason Brougham / University of Texas

“We can’t say exactly what color it was, but it was close to a raven or a crow,” says evolutionary biologist Matthew Shawkey of the University of Akron in Ohio.

To reveal the ancient creature’s shiny tint, the scientists examined fossilized plumage discovered in China. Imprints in the feathers revealed pigment-producing bodies called melanosomes that were long, narrow and probably packed together tightly, as in modern birds with black iridescent feathers. Shawkey and his colleagues had already used a similar technique to show that another birdlike dinosaur, Archaeopteryx, had black feathers, but with no signs of shimmer. Microraptor’s extra sheen may have helped the animal attract mates.

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