Research highlight

Feather provides colouring clue in Archaeopteryx

Nature Communications

January 25, 2012

Study of a single Archaeopteryx feather, published in Nature Communications this week, predicts the feather was originally black. This finding provides clues to the colour of this iconic animal. Archaeopteryx combined reptilian features, such as teeth and a long vertebral tail, with bird-like feathers and has inspired much literature about the origin of birds. However, the animal’s colour — which is a diverse and multifunctional trait in mod-ern birds — remains a mystery. Fossilized feathers can still contain pigment and colour information in structures within cells, known as melanosomes. Ryan Carney and colleagues examined melanosomes within the feather specimen using scanning electron microscopy. The results suggest, with 95% probability, that this feather was originally black. Further feather specimens will need to be tested in order to discover whether this colouring persisted across the animal.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1642

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