A newly discovered fossilized feather reveals that a number of dinosaurs flew through the prehistoric skies, and that at least one of them was the color black.
Archaeopteryx, a winged dinosaur long believed to be the world’s first bird, had black feathers, according to a scientific feat reported on Tuesday. A team of researchers, led by Brown University, has revealed that a well-preserved feather on the raven-sized dinosaur’s wing was black, and that a number of dinosaurs may have been bird-like in their makeup.
The research team announced the discovery after poring over a remarkably preserved wing feather in an Archaeopteryx fossil unearthed in a German limestone quarry in 1861. Using a scanning electron microscope at the Carl Zeiss laboratory in Germany, the team was able to utilize fossilized melanosomes, or pigment-producing parts of a cell, to determine the color of the dinosaur feather. The team also use a number of instruments to determine that the feather was warped in a such a manner that revealed it was used for flying, rather than camouflage.
“If Archaeopteryx was flapping or gliding, the presence of melanosomes would have given the feathers additional structural support,” said Ryan Carney, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University, in the northeastern U.S. state of Rhode Island.
Archaeopteryxlived about 150 million years ago in what is now Bavaria in Germany. First unearthed 150 years ago, the fossil of this carnivore, with its blend of avian and reptilian features, is thought to be one of the first creatures with the ability to fly.
“This would have been advantageous during this early evolutionary stage of dinosaur flight,” said Mr. Carney.
More feathers will need to be tested across Archaeopteryx to see how the animal was colored overall, researchers said. Unfortunately, this is the only Archaeopteryx feather discovered with the kind of residues one can test for color.
The National Geographic Society and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded the study. The paper is published by the journal Nature Communications.