The discovery of pterosaurs solves the mystery of ancient feathers

The discovery of pterosaurs solves the mystery of ancient feathers

An international team of paleontologists has discovered fascinating new evidence that pterosaurs, the flying relatives of dinosaurs, were able to control the color of their feathers using melanin pigments.

The study published in the journal temper natureLed by paleontologists at University College Cork (UCC) Dr. Odd Cincotta, Prof. Maria McNamara and Dr. Pascal Godefroyt of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, together with an international team of scientists from Brazil and Belgium.

The new study is based on analyzes of a new fossil crest of a 115-million-year-old pterosaur Topandactyl emperor From northeastern Brazil. Pterosaurs coexisted with dinosaurs from 230 to 66 million years ago.

This type of pterosaur is famous for its strange huge crest. The team found that the lower part of the crest has a fuzzy edge of feathers, with short, straight hair-like feathers and thin branching feathers.

“We weren’t expecting to see this at all,” Dr. Cincotta said. “For decades, paleontologists have argued about whether pterosaurs had feathers. The feathers of our specimen forever end that debate because it is so evident that it branched out along its entire length, just like birds today.”

Then the team studied the feathers with high-powered electron microscopes and found the preserved melanosomes – granules of the melanin pigment. Unexpectedly, the new study showed that melanosomes of different types of feathers have different shapes.

“In modern birds, feather color is closely related to the shape of the pigment. Because pterosaur feather species have different melanosomes, these animals must have had the genetic mechanism to control the color of their feathers,” Professor McNamara said. This property is essential for color structuring and shows that coloration was an essential feature of even the first feathers. »

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Thanks to the collective efforts of Belgian and Brazilian scientists and authorities working with a private donor, the remarkable specimen was returned to Brazil. “It is very important to return scientifically important fossils like this to their countries of origin and keep them safe for future generations,” said Dr. Godefroyt. “These fossils can then be made available to scientists for further study and can inspire future generations of scientists through public exhibitions that celebrate our natural heritage.”

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