Anchiornis (Greek for "almost bird"); pronounced ANN-kee-OR-niss
Woodlands of Asia
Late Jurassic (155 million years ago)
Size and Weight:
About one foot long and a few ounces
Small size; feathers on front and back limbs
The small, feathered "dino-birds" dug up in China's Liaoning fossil beds have proved an endless source of confusion. The latest genus to ruffle the feathers of paleontologists is Anchiornis, a tiny dinosaur (not a bird) with unusually long front arms and feathers on its front limbs, hind limbs, and feet. Despite its similarity to Microraptor--another four-winged dino-bird--Anchiornis is believed to have been a troodont dinosaur, and thus a close relative of the much bigger Troodon. Like other feathered dinosaurs of its kind, Anchiornis may have represented an intermediate stage between dinosaurs and modern birds, though it may also have occupied a side branch of avian evolution destined to die out with the dinosaurs.
Recently, a team of scientists analyzed the fossilized melanosomes (pigment cells) of a specimen of Anchiornis, resulting in what may be the first full-color depiction of an extinct dinosaur. It turns out that this dino-bird had an orange, mohawk-like crest of feathers on its head, alternating white- and black-striped feathers running along the width of its wings, and black and red "freckles" spotting its beaked face. This has provided considerable grist for paleo-illustrators, who now have no excuse for depicting Anchiornis with scaly, reptilian skin!