Did you know a hummingbird’s feathers are actually black? And those beautiful iridescent feathers they sport, come from a newly discovered dinosaur that had similar rainbow coloring.

Birds are essentially the last remaining dinosaurs, and they’re also known as some of the most vibrant colored animals on our planet. In a new study, scientists from Chicago’s Field Museum revealed that these brightly colored feathers actually go way, way back in time – I’m talking 161 million years ago. . .

See there was this bird-like dinosaur, the Caihong juji, it was roughly about the size of a duck, and according to some of its fossilized feathers, it likely had those beautiful rainbow feathers on its head, wings, and tail. These “rainbow” feathers would have shimmered and changed colors in the light – which reflects where its name comes from. In Mandarin, Caihong juji means “rainbow with the big crest.”

Hummingbird Feathers
Photo credit: The Field Museum

“When you look at the fossil record, you normally only see hard parts like bone, but every once in a while, soft parts like feathers are preserved, and you get a glimpse into the past,” says Chad Eliason, a postdoctoral researcher at The Field Museum and an author of the Nature Communications study.


“Hummingbirds have bright, iridescent feathers, but if you took a hummingbird feather and smashed it into tiny pieces, you’d only see black dust. The pigment in the feathers is black, but the shapes of the melanosomes that produce that pigment are what make the colors in hummingbird feathers that we see,” explains Eliason.

This discovery allows Eliason and his team of scientists to get a good grip on the concept of different traits literally being passed through time and speed in which these animals were evolving. “The discovery gives us insight into the tempo of fast these features were evolving,” Eliason added.

For more details, here’s the full press release.

Image courtesy Flickr

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