Flying reptiles could change the colour of their feathers, an international research finds.
A team of palaeontologists has discovered remarkable new evidence that pterosaurs, the flying relatives of dinosaurs, were able to control the colour of their feathers using melanin pigments.
The study, published in the journal Nature, was led by University College Cork (UCC) palaeontologists Dr Aude Cincotta and Prof. Maria McNamara and Dr Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, with an international team of scientists from Brazil and Belgium.
The new study is based on analyses of a new 115 million year old fossilized headcrest of the pterosaur Tupandactylus imperator from north-eastern Brazil. Pterosaurs lived side by side with dinosaurs, 230 to 66 million years ago.
Artist reconstruction of T. imperator, showing distinct feather types. (Copyright Bob Nicholls
This species of pterosaur is famous for its bizarre huge headcrest. The team discovered that the bottom of the crest had a fuzzy rim of feathers, with short wiry hair-like feathers and fluffy branched feathers.
“We didn’t expect to see this at all”, said Dr Cincotta. “For decades palaeontologists have argued about whether pterosaurs had feathers. The feathers in our specimen close off that debate for good as they are very clearly branched all the way along their length, just like birds today”.
Top image: Artist reconstruction of Tupandactylus imperator. Credit Bob Nicholls