Friday, March 9, 2012

A Cretaceous Grackle

Microraptor restoration by Jason Brougham
A team of researchers with the American Museum of Natural History have furthered our understanding of the coloration of feathers in prehistoric animals.

In the most recent study, published in the jouranl Science, the researchers revealed that the non-avian dinosaur, Microraptor sp., was covered in completely black plumage that was somewhat irridescent.

Common Grackle photo by Casey Tucker
The researchers were given access to a well preserved specimen of Microraptor which allowed them to sample 29 sites from all over the small dinosaur.  The number and location of the samples allowed them to determine that the animal was probably covered completely in the black plumage.

The plumage found in the Microraptor is probably comparable to what is seen in modern crows or grackles.

In addition to the publication on the feather coloration, the team also learned that Microraptor tails were narrower than previously thought and tipped with two long feathers.  These longer tail feathers are seen in a number of different extant and extinct bird species and are thought to be used to attract mates.

Microraptor specimen at Cincinnati Museum of
Natural History