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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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ScienceShot: Flashy Feathers
8 March 2012 2:00 pm
The pigeon-sized dinosaur Microraptor, which lived about 120 million years ago, probably sported glossy black plumage like today's crows, a new analysis suggests. Detailed analyses of a fossil (inset) unearthed in northeastern China reveal that the creature's feathers would have been densely packed with pigment-bearing structures called melanosomes. The long, narrow shape of those melanosomes, as well as their arrangement in sheetlike arrays, indicates that the feathers would have been black and weakly iridescent, the researchers report in the 9 March issue of Science. Although other pigments could have been present in Microraptor's feathers, they would have been largely masked by black pigments, rendering the creature crowlike in appearance (main image) except for that long, bony tail and lengthy feathers on its legs. Previous studies of other Microraptor fossils, citing the presence of a large, bony ring within the creature's eye, suggested that the species was nocturnal. But the new study hints that the creature was active in the daytime, because no extant birds with glossy black plumage are active at night. Perhaps Microraptor was active during dawn and dusk, the researchers say—a lifestyle that would require large eyes yet also provide opportunity for daytime activity for which iridescent plumage could be used to identify fellow members of its species and signal to potential mates.
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