Anchiornis (Greek for "almost bird"); pronounced ANN-chee-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!