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Microraptor Had Iridescent Plumage

From: Ben Creisler

In the new March 9 issue of Science:

Quanguo Li, Ke-Qin Gao, Qingjin Meng, Julia A. Clarke, Matthew D.
Shawkey, Liliana D’Alba, Rui Pei, Mick Ellison, Mark A. Norell, and
Jakob Vinther (2012)
Reconstruction of Microraptor and the Evolution of Iridescent Plumage.
Science 335(6073): 1215-1219
DOI: 10.1126/science.1213780

NOTE: The pdf for the data supplement is free.


Iridescent feather colors involved in displays of many extant birds
are produced by nanoscale arrays of melanin-containing organelles
(melanosomes). Data relevant to the evolution of these colors and the
properties of melanosomes involved in their generation have been
limited. A data set sampling variables of extant avian melanosomes
reveals that those forming most iridescent arrays are distinctly
narrow. Quantitative comparison of these data with melanosome imprints
densely sampled from a previously unknown specimen of the Early
Cretaceous feathered Microraptor predicts that its plumage was
predominantly iridescent. The capacity for simple iridescent arrays is
thus minimally inferred in paravian dinosaurs. This finding and
estimation of Microraptor feathering consistent with an ornamental
function for the tail suggest a centrality for signaling in early
evolution of plumage and feather color.