The colour patterns on the creature’s limbs were probably used in communication and may have helped the dinosaur to attract mates, and ward off predators

Palaeontologists claim to have mapped the full-colour pattern of a feathered dinosaur for the first time, and concluded that it looked like a “chicken” with some extra wings.

An international team has based its findings on an analysis of a 150-million-year-old fossil of the four-winged carnivore dinosaur that lived during the late Jurassic period in China, and comparison of the structures determining colour in living bird feathers with those in the fossil.

The Anchiornis huxleyi dinosaur, which was alive about 47 million years ago, had a largely grey body, a reddish-brown, Mohawk-like crest and facial speckles, white feathers on its wings and legs, with bold black-spangled tips.

According to the palaeontologists, the colour patterns on the creature’s limbs, which they compare to those of the modern day Spangled Hamburg chicken, were probably used in communication and may have helped the dinosaur to attract mates, and ward off predators.

“This was no crow or sparrow, but a creature with a very notable plumage. This would be a very striking animal if it was alive today,” the British media quoted the study’s co-author Prof. Richard Prum of Yale University as saying.

Co-author Jacob Vinther of Yale University added: “It is like a big chicken but more slender and graceful.”

The study, published in the ‘Science’ journal, adds weight to the idea that dinosaurs first evolved feathers not for flight but for signalling.

“This means a colour-patterning function, for example, camouflage or display — must have had a key role in the early evolution of feathers in dinosaurs. It’s just as important as evolving flight or improved aerodynamic function,” said Julia Clark of University of Texas and a co-author of the study.

The team closely examined 29 feather samples from the dinosaur, measuring the different types of melanosomes within the feathers.

Through a statistical analysis of how those melanosomes compared with the types of melanosomes known to create particular colours in living birds, the members could determine with 90 per cent certainty the colours of individual feathers and, therefore, the colourful patterns of the extinct animal.

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