Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Feathers as Decoration

The oldest known feathered dinosaur precursor to birds, the newly-discovered Epidexipteryx hui, may have used its feathers principally for ornamentation rather than flight.

The remains date back 152 million to 168 million years ago, making the newfound creature slightly older than Archaeopteryx, the most primitive known bird....

Researchers think the pigeon-size Epidexipteryx might have used its plumes as flashy ornaments, since it was mostly covered in short feathers that lack the structure necessary for flight.

"For example, [the feathers] could potentially have played a role in displays intended to attract a mate, scare off a rival, or send a warning signal to other individuals of the same species," said study co-author Fucheng Zhang, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing....

"It shows that the use of feathers for visual communication—as opposed to other functions such as insulation and flight—was a very early development."
The fossil (pictured above) was discovered in Inner Mongolia in 2007. It shows long tail feathers on the left and what appears to be a ridge of feathers along its back.