Sino-American team of paleontologists has found that the plumage of a tiny dinosaur dating back 130 million years had glowing colors, the first one that shows that this trait played a key role in the seduction early in the evolution of species.
The feathers of this four-winged Microraptor as big as a pigeon had hints of black and blue like a crow.
It fed on insects and live in the trees of what is now northeastern China.
This is the first dinosaur that scientists were able to reconstruct this characteristic plumage from a fossil unearthed in 2003.
Iridescence is now widespread in nature. Many insects, butterflies, fish and birds have their flamboyant colors to optical phenomenon whereby a surface appears to change color depending on the angle from which you look taking the colors of the rainbow.
"This study provides an unprecedented look at the appearance of this animal when he was alive," said Mark Norell, chairman of the paleontology section of the American Museum of Natural History, one of the authors of this paper appeared in the journal Science dated March 9.
"Modern birds use their colorful feathers for many things ranging from thermoregulation, camouflage, through seduction", told AFP Matt Shawkey, a biology professor at the University of Akron (Ohio, North), who also participated in the study.
This discovery shows that "the iridescence of the colors was already important for seduction relatively early in evolution," he said.
The paleontologist also stresses the importance of this fossil Microraptor represents "a very clear transition between dinosaurs and birds which he has many morphological features."
"The unique characteristics of the wings of Microraptor also help us understand the origin of flight," said he.
Dinosaurs, it has teeth, the shape of the front legs and his long bony tail and narrow, says the researcher.
"Many hypotheses have been advanced to explain how the feathers of Microraptor were oriented and whether they formed an airfoil to fly or if they served only to win," said Mark Norell.
"Not only did we determine the color of this animal but also the fact that Microraptor, like many modern birds, was using the color of its feathers to give visual signals to other members of his species," welcomed there.
These researchers, using microscopes capable of scanning electron analyzed the shape of melanosomes within which are produced melanins, pigments protect the skin from solar radiation, and thus deduce the colors produced.
"With the many discoveries of fossils of birds and flowering plants, we know that the Cretaceous (minus 145.5 million year to less 65.5 million years) was a colorful world, and now we also know Microraptor had the pearly colors, "said Gao Ke-Qin of Peking University in China, another study author.
"There are still a few years, it was inconceivable to think of doing research like this," he adds.