Birds like peacocks may have inherited their ability to ‘show off’ from the dinosaurs, after the discovery of an eye-catching dinosaur which could dance to impress mates.
The new species, Ubirajara jubatus, was chicken-sized with a mane of long fur down its back and stiff ribbons projecting out and back from its shoulders.
It’s unlike any previous fossil, and scientists believe its flamboyant features may have helped it find mates - or intimate enemies.
Lead author Robert Smyth, of the University of Portsmouth, said: “These are such extravagant features for such a small animal and not at all what we would predict if we only had the skeleton preserved. Why adorn yourself in a way that makes you more obvious to both your prey and to potential predators?
“The truth is that for many animals, evolutionary success is about more than just surviving, you also have to look good if you want to pass your genes on to the next generation.
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“Modern birds are famed for their elaborate plumage and displays that are used to attract mates - the peacock’s tail and male birds-of-paradise are textbook examples of this,” Smyth said.
“Ubirajara shows us that this tendency to show off is not a uniquely avian characteristic, but something that birds inherited from their dinosaur ancestors.”
Ubirajara jubatus is named after a Tupi Indian name for ‘lord of the spear’, in reference to the creature’s stiff, elongated spikes, and jubatus from the Latin meaning ‘maned’ or ‘crested’.
Researchers at the University of Portsmouth and the State Museum of Natural History, Karlsruhe, Germany discovered the new species while examining fossils in Karlsruhe’s collection.
The study is published in the scientific journal Cretaceous Research.
Professor David Martill said: “What is especially unusual about the beast is the presence of two very long, probably stiff ribbons on either side of its shoulders that were probably used for display, for mate attraction, inter-male rivalry or to frighten off foe.
“We cannot prove that the specimen is a male, but given the disparity between male and female birds, it appears likely the specimen was a male, and young, too, which is surprising given most complex display abilities are reserved for mature adult males.
“Given its flamboyance, we can imagine that the dinosaur may have indulged in elaborate dancing to show off its display structures.”
The ribbons are not scales or fur, nor are they feathers in the modern sense. They appear to be structures unique to this animal.
Ubirajara jubatus lived about 110 million years ago, during the Aptian stage of the Cretaceous period, and is closely related to the European Jurassic dinosaur Compsognathus.
A section of the long, thick mane running down the animal’s back is preserved nearly intact.
The arms were also covered in fur-like filaments down to the hands.
The mane is thought to have been controlled by muscles allowing it to be raised, in a similar way a dog raises its hackles or a porcupine raises its spines when threatened.
Ubirajara could lower its mane close to the skin when not in a display mode allowing the creature to move fast without getting tangled in vegetation.
Professor Martill said: “Any creature with movable hair or feathers as a body coverage has a great advantage in streamlining the body contour for faster hunts or escapes but also to capture or release heat.”
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