Plumage Color Patterns of an Extinct Dinosaur

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  04 Feb 2010:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1186290


As long as dinosaurs have been known, there has been speculation about their appearance. Fossil feathers can preserve the morphology of color-imparting melanosomes, which allows color patterns in feathered dinosaurs to be reconstructed. Here, we map feather color patterns in a Late Jurassic basal paravian theropod dinosaur. Quantitative comparisons with melanosome shape and density in extant feathers indicate that the body was gray and dark and the face had rufous speckles. The crown was rufous, and the long limb feathers were white with distal black spangles. The evolution of melanin-based within-feather pigmentation patterns may coincide with that of elongate pennaceous feathers in the common ancestor of Maniraptora, before active powered flight. Feathers may thus have played a role in sexual selection or other communication.