Plumage is a Girl's Best Friend

Oviraptor   Image Credit: Sydney Mohr/Canadian Press

Image Credit: Sydney Mohr/Canadian Press

Much like peacocks, the Victoria Crowned pigeons are immediately recognizable by their feathers. Their gorgeous blues are a product of sexual selection: the better the plumage, the better the chance of reproducing with a quality lady. The male will lower his head, stretch forward towards the female, and bob his head in rhythm with his fanned tail. This is made in conjunction with a deep mating call, that one can easily imagine booming through the New Guinea grounds.

But how old is this time-tested tactic of wooing the ladies?

According to recent research at the University of Alberta, at least one of the feathered dinosaur species used plumage in a mating display. In particular, the Oviraptor (a distant T. Rex relative with a large fanned-feathered tail and the size of a modern turkey at its smallest) has been charged with this behavior. The oviraptor's tail had pygostyles: the same solid bones that are found in modern birds that anchor their tail feathers. Once this was shown to match the color-banded feathers, Dr. Persons suggested that this was "a tail built for flaunting, that could shake a tail feather side to side, raise it up, strike a pose."

That's right: this dinosaur from 75 million years ago was showing off his tail like our Victoria Crowned pigeons do today.

Interestingly, the Oviraptor had additional bird-like traits. It also had a rigid rib cage, feathered wings, and a light covering of feathers along its body. In some studies, researchers have argued that they would cover their eggs with their feathered wings. They are often compared to cassowaries due to the similar morphologies.

We live amongst dinosaurs, folks. And perhaps the things that we credit birds with developing recently are much more primitive than we could have dreamed. Feathers alone have been in the works for millions of years (the oldest fossil evidence points to 80 million)-- and a lady's preference for them too!

By Iva Petrovchich

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