U.S. Science Foundation: Dinosaur feathers may have been used for mating, not...

U.S. Science Foundation: Dinosaur feathers may have been used for mating, not flight

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A team of scientists say that a recently discovered fossil sheds light on how dinosaurs may have attracted mates.

Paleontologists working in conjunction with the U.S. National Science Foundation and the China’s Beijing Museum of Natural History say that winged dinosaurs may have used glossy feathers to attract mates.

The study if the first to identify the glossy feathers as  part of a mating ritual. Paleontologists announced the discovery following a study of a newly-discovered dinosaur fossil they say is the earliest known record of iridescent color in feathers. The fossil is that of a four-winged, pigeon-sized dinosaur called a Microraptor that lived about 120 million years ago during the height of the dinosaur age, said scientists.

Until now, a number of scientists had posited that the feather-covered dinosaurs may have used the feathers for flight, rather than mating. The team noted that the feathers closely resembled those of a peacock, in that they are located near the tail of the creature and were largely useless in flight.

The team noted that the well-preserved fossil allow them to study the pigment-containing cells, which resembles those seem in modern day birds.

“Iridescence is widespread in modern birds and is frequently used in displays,” said Matthew Shawkey, a biologist at the University of Akron in Ohio. “Our evidence that microraptor was largely iridescent thus suggests that feathers were important for display even relatively early in their evolution.”

That said, the team of paleontologists noted that the latest study is far from definitive. The team noted that the feathers may have been used for a variety of purposes, including regulating body temperature.

Only recently has the technology allow paleontologists to study the pigment-containing cells of fossils. Scientists noted that the pigment cells in dinosaurs are especially difficult to examine due to their shape, which is largely narrow.

The new study is published in the journal Science.

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