Scientists have found the most elaborate dinosaur dressed to ever impress and say it sheds new light on how birds like peacocks have inherited their ability to show off.
The new species, Ubirajara jubatus, was the size of a chicken, with a long fur mane on its back and stiff ribbons protruding back and forth from the shoulders, traits never seen before in the fossil record.
It is believed that his extravagant features were used to blind colleagues or intimidate the enemy.
An international team of scientists led by Professor David Martill and researcher Robert Smyth, both at the University of Portsmouth, and Professor Dino Frey at the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe, Germany, have discovered the new species while examining fossils from Karlsruhe Collection.
The study is published in the scientific journal Cretaceous Research.
Professor Martill said: “What is particularly unusual about the beast is the presence of two very long ribbons, probably stiff, on both sides of his shoulders, which were probably used for display, for the attraction of partners, for rivalry between men or to scared the enemy.
“We cannot prove that the specimen is a male, but given the difference between male and female birds, it seems that the specimen was a male and also young, which is surprising, given that the most complex skills of display are reserved for mature adult men.
“Given its flamboyance, we can imagine that the dinosaur could have dedicated itself to elaborate dances to show its display structures.”
Ribbons are not scales or fur, nor are they feathers in the modern sense. They seem to be unique structures to this animal.
Mr Smyth said: “These are such extravagant traits for such a small animal and not at all what we would have predicted if it had kept only the skeleton. Why adorn yourself in a way that makes you more obvious to both your prey and potential predators?
“The truth is that for many animals, the success of evolution means more than survival, you have to look good if you want to pass on your genes to the next generation.
“Modern birds are famous for their elaborate plumage and the posters that are used to attract pairs – the peacock’s tail and the male birds of paradise are examples of textbooks. Ubirajara shows us that this tendency to show is not a unique avian feature, but something that birds inherited from their dinosaur ancestors. “
Ubirajara jubatus lived about 110 million years ago, in the Aptian stage of the Cretaceous period and is closely related to the European Jurassic dinosaur Compsognathus.
A section of long, thick mane flowing over the animal’s back is kept almost intact. The arms were also covered with fur-like filaments up to the hands.
It is believed that the mane was controlled by the muscles that allow it to be lifted, in a similar way, a dog lifts its tickles or a porcupine lifts its spine when threatened.
Ubirajara could leave its mane close to the skin when not in a display mode, allowing the creature to move quickly without tangling in the vegetation.
Professor Martill said: “Any creature with mobile hair or feathers as a body covering has a great advantage in streamlining the body contour for faster hunting or escape, but also for capturing or releasing heat.”
The mane is not the only extraordinary feature.
Researchers describe keratin’s long, flat, stiff ribbons as “enigmatic,” each with a sharp ridge that stretches along the middle. These ribbons were positioned so as not to impede the freedom of movement of his arms and legs, so they would not have limited the animal’s ability to hunt, prey and send signals.
Mr Smyth claims that Ubirajara’s elaborate plumage could have improved his chances of survival.
He said: “We know that a lot of dinosaurs have bony ridges, thorns and leaves that were probably used for exposure, but we don’t see them very often in live birds. In birds, the ridges are made of feathers.
“This little dinosaur offers some insight into why this might be the case.
“Bone requires a lot of energy for a body to grow and maintain, it is also heavy and can cause serious injuries if it is broken.
“Keratin – the material that forms hair, feathers and scales – is a much better display alternative for a small animal like this. Keratin is less expensive to produce a body, is also light, flexible and can be replaced regularly if damaged.
“Ubirajara is the most primitive dinosaur known to possess integumentary display structures. It represents a revolution in dinosaur communication, the effects of which we can still see today in living birds. “
Professor Frey excavated the specimen from the two stone slabs in which it was located and, using X-rays, found skeletal elements and previously hidden soft tissues, allowing researchers to build a clear picture of its features.
Ubirajara jubatus is the first non-avian dinosaur described from the Crato Formation in Brazil, a large shallow interior set about 110 million years ago. It is also the first non-avian dinosaur found on the old Gondwana supercontinent with preserved skin.
Another researcher on the team, Hector Rivera Sylva, of the Museo del Desierto, Mexico, said that in addition to the fact that the discovery is a watershed in this area, it is also important for America.
He said: “Ubirajara jubatus is not only important because of the integumentary structures present for the first time in a non-avian dinosaur, completely changing the way we see the behavior of certain dinosaurs. Rather, the scientific value transcends, forming a river basin, as it is the first evidence for this group in Latin America, as well as one of the few reported for the Gondwana subcontinent, extending knowledge about non-avian feathered dinosaurs to America. rare. “