Pterosaur Discovery Solves Ancient Feather Mystery: Flying Reptiles Could Change the Color of Their Feathers

Feathered Pterosaur Tupandactylus Crop

Artist’s reconstruction of the feathered pterosaur Tupandactylus, showing the feather types along the bottom of the headcrest: dark monofilaments and lighter-colored branched feathers. Credit: © Nicholls 2022 Copyright Bob Nicholls

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

The study, published today (April 20, 2022) in the journal Nature, was led by University College Cork (UCC) paleontologists 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.

Pterosaur Reconstruction Feather Types

Artist’s reconstruction of the feathered pterosaur Tupandactylus, showing the feather types along the bottom of the head crest: dark monofilaments and lighter-colored branched feathers. Credit: Copyright Julio Lacerda

The new study is based on analyses of a new 115 million-year-old fossilized head crest of the pterosaur Tupandactylus imperator from north-eastern Brazil. Pterosaurs lived side by side with dinosaurs, from 230 to 66 million years ago.

This species of pterosaur is famous for its bizarre huge head crest. 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.

Maria McNamara Pterosaur Feathers

University College Cork (UCC) Professor Maria McNamara holding tiny samples of the pterosaur feathers. Credit: UCC

“We didn’t expect to see this at all,” said Dr. Cincotta. “For decades paleontologists 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.”

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

Maria McNamara

University College Cork (UCC) Professor Maria McNamara. Credit: UCC

“In birds today, feather color is strongly linked to melanosome shape,” said Prof. McNamara. “Since the pterosaur feather types had different melanosome shapes, these animals must have had the genetic machinery to control the colors of their feathers. This feature is essential for color patterning and shows that coloration was a critical feature of even the very earliest feathers.”

Thanks to the collective efforts of the Belgian and Brazilian scientists and authorities working with a private donor, the remarkable specimen has been repatriated to Brazil. “It is so important that scientifically important fossils such as this are returned to their countries of origin and safely conserved for posterity,” said Dr. Godefroit. “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.”

Reference: “Pterosaur melanosomes support signalling functions for early feathers” by Aude Cincotta, Michaël Nicolaï, Hebert Bruno Nascimento Campos, Maria McNamara, Liliana D’Alba, Matthew D. Shawkey, Edio-Ernst Kischlat, Johan Yans, Robert Carleer, François Escuillié and Pascal Godefroit, 20 April 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04622-3

4 Comments on "Pterosaur Discovery Solves Ancient Feather Mystery: Flying Reptiles Could Change the Color of Their Feathers"

  1. Final have the technology for dinosaur skin color or other animal the ancient animal every year this happen I know enough not to believe this .pterosaur is a dinosaur early pterosaur has serrated teeth and early pterosaur has tetanuran tail .carnotaurus a 4 finger dinosaur do not have this they have same tail as a gator they were not as good of a bipedal as tetanuran dinosaur so they have semi aquatic tail as the first thecodont proterosuchus .clearly they were not a tetanuran with a bird like skull it’s not as wide as tetanuran dinosaur. but like all reptile more bones in the skull they have smaller brain but pterosaur has biggest brain in dinosaur but smaller than a flightless bird like velociraptor bird or flying bird the eagle which have a bigger brain.pterosaur a crocodilian animal the thecodont a thecodont or crocodilian animal without a death roll system it’s not a true crocodilian like spinosaurus and the gator the mesoeucrocodylia dinosaur .the most advance dinosaur ever the gator do not have feather allso is a tyrannosaur like t.rex and a tetanuran dinosaur .gator does not need feather it live in cold places because it’s the king of the dinosaur there is nothing primitive about a gator it’s design to battle lion and tiger and clearly defeat t.rex .t.rex is not in the league as mesoeucrocodylia the weaponry is just not there.pterosaur has long snout like aquatic animal massive skull like a gator whale nose like a aquatic animal toes are Webb .skull crest like voay mesoeucrocodylia duck bill dinosaur the advance pterosaur has gator tail a aquatic tail clearly was aquatic not close of beening a flying animal it was flightless a sting ray mimic the trend was aquatic .it seems no won explain all dinosaur feature of pterosaur clearly it was a early dinosaur close to tetanuran it was a dinosaur mimic birds like a gator convergent evolution .so pterosaur do not have fourth trochanter but it has extreme bipedal tail this show there ancestor had won you need won to be bipedal .some dinosaur lack fourth trochanter and they are aquatic with smooth skin like pterosaur no armor skin like whale mesoeucrocodylia these dinosaur have same quadrupedal peg ankle like a gator allso have same human bipedal ankle like the gator I only know of one reptile with this human ankle it’s not a thecodont .human ankle is very rare in animal kingdom because most animal are not bipedal the ankle are convergent evolution .pterosaur allso lack peg ankle like proterosuchus but proterosuchus lack dinosaur feature pterosaur has them.the lack of fourth trochanter means the animal was not a land animal likely live in water most of the time.allso one dwarf caiman has a tetanuran tail.

  2. Hello. This study needs to be reexamined because these “feathers” are actually collagen fibers. Here is a link to a paper that helps to describe one example in an animal.

  3. It’s the same feather as seasnakes snakes are turn into bird that the greatest evidence I allready read dolphin story and many more .the new hype protofeather is said is better than the other because badit scientist have the answer and media agree because media never check because they are a tabloid.this evidence have to pass by scientific world =bandit won knows how protofeather look like .pterosaur is a dinosaur same as the gator the gator is last living dinosaur only animal with the evidence.pterosaur not even have a kink snout .kink snout found mostly in none dinosaur thecodont because first thecodont was semi aquatic they had smooth skin .osteoderm armor skin came later that why early dinosaur had gator tail the bipedal tail it’s not like lizard tail the tail can go very high up and down bipedal lizard have simular design because they are bipedal .the different between tetanuran 3 finger dinosaur tail and gator tail the gator have flexible tail it can side to side that good for swimming and jumping out of water allso jumping on land it was advitage they had over dinosaur on land a very dangerous feature that why crocodilian fence at zoo need to be high they are good jumper.the tetanuran dinosaur have bone that make the tail not flexible the design of tail only for land they were poor dinosaur one dwarf caiman has same tail as tetanuran dinosaur it’s poor swimmer it’s a land crocodilian does need water.the kink snout is fish eating feature early dinosaur eoraptor had won not found in herrerasaurus the target for pterosaur ancestor .only in spinosauridae kink is found in tetanuran because dinosaur is evolving more of a land animal .pterosaur do have palate teeth like eoraptor a tuatara teeth it’s remnants of 2 row teeth a primitive more advance pterosaur they have kink .and because they are aquatic and eat fish.they claim dinosaur is too bizarre so they unique animal not like other animals usual any strange reptile usual its a crocodilian because of high tech feature like mammal .pterosaurs is not that unique it has wing so do crocodile and both are flightless but crocodile is not that aquatic .tetanuran is likely lot older protosuchus type is close to them with wider skull like tetanuran protosuchus type have a lot of tetanuran feature clearly they more primitive with a lack of Cingulum teeth it’s kind like bird flightless happen many time true evolution same with the sprawling ankle gator only tetanuran and spinosauridae with a sprawling ankle .4 finger dinosaur are not close to tetanuran there feature are too advance.I can not believe today people say dinosaur are dead or it’s a bird the evidence is clear from a long time ago clearly gator is a dinosaur it’s very advance the advance feature is well known and it’s not going to change

  4. This is fantastic!! Very educational. Im thinking it would be a really fun brain stimulation for kids to create what these animals may have looked like. Maybe in drawings, or clay works. I would love to see what the opinion of what these animals looked like are!

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