Microraptors, tiny four-winged dinosaurs that flourished some 130 million years ago in what is now China, used flashy plumage to attract mates, paleontologists have said.
Researchers from the US National Science Foundation who teamed up with experts from China's Beijing Museum of Natural History to study the newly discovered dinosaur said it was the earliest known record of iridescent color in feathers, VOA reported.
The pigeon-sized Microraptor, which lived during the Cretaceous period, had glossy black feathers that were probably used to call attention to itself and find a mate, the scientists reported in the journal Science.
About the size of a pigeon, it also had a long, narrow tail adorned with a pair of so-called streamer feathers.
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Study co-author Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, called the look an "Anna Wintour special" after the Vogue editor, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
"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," the wrote in the study’s abstract.
Matthew Shawkey, a biologist at the University of Akron in Ohio, in a statement obtained by The New York Times that: "Iridescence is widespread in modern birds, and is frequently used in displays. Our evidence that Microraptor was largely iridescent thus suggests that feathers were important for display even relatively early in their evolution."
However, the scientists concluded, Microraptor could not fly; based on its skeleton and muscle formation, the team said that at best, it would glide or parachute from trees.
The creature was far more related to velociraptor than modern birds, the CSM cited Norell as saying.
"Crows don't have teeth. Crows don't have claws on its hands. The hands are identical to things we think of as mean vicious animals, like velociraptor."
The finding was disputed by Larry Martin, a professor at the University of Kansas who spoke to the CSM but was not involved in the research "To me a bird is an animal with an avian hand and wrist with primary flight feathers," he said. "By that definition microraptor is definitely a bird."