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Volume 604 Issue 7907, 28 April 2022

Visual display

The cover shows an artist’s impression of the pterosaur Tupandactylus imperator. Although feathered pterosaurs have been reported, these claims have been controversial and it has not been clear whether these leathery-winged flying reptiles had feathers of different colours like modern-day birds. In this week’s issue, Aude Cincotta and her colleagues present evidence that not only did pterosaurs have feathers but that the feathers probably had varied coloration. The researchers analysed a partial skull of Tupandactylus, found in Brazil and dated to around 113 million years ago. They identified two types of feather along the base of the crest, one of which featured branched structures very similar to modern feathers. They also found pigment-producing organelles in both types of feather and the skin on the head crest. The team suggests that these coloured feathers would have been used in visual communication and that their presence in Tupandactylus indicates the ability to manipulate feather colour stretches back farther than was previously realized.

Cover image: Bob Nicholls for the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

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