"Dinobird" remains were discovered in northeast Brazil and researchers wrote the flashy teenager had two arrow-like tail feathers on its derriere.
The hummingbird-sized fossil - "approximately 6 centimeters from snout to tip of pygostile," (tailbone) - is the oldest known fossil from Gondwana, a supercontinent that once encompassed Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India and South America, according to the study published in Nature. "The rectrices exhibit a row of rounded spots, probably corresponding to some original colour pattern," researchers wrote. "The specimen supports the identification of the feather scapus as the rachis, which is notably robust and elliptical in cross-section. In spite of its juvenile nature, the tail plumage resembles the feathering of adult individuals of modern birds."
Lead author Ismar de Souza Carvalho of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro described the discovery:
The fossil is in near-perfect condition and dates to the Early Cretaceous over 100 million years ago. Typically, tail feathers and similar appendages don't preserve well, but this specimen gives a 3-D view of the prehistoric bird's appearance.
"These are weird feathers that occur in extinct birds," said Richard Prum, a professor of ornithology at Yale University who was not involved with the study, according to Live Science. "But they're on a separate line. They have nothing to do with modern feathers. It's fascinating."
"We are still comparing it with some birds that came from other parts of Gondwana to decide, exactly, the name that it will have," de Souza Carvalho said. The bird belongs to the diverse group Enantiornithes, but it has yet to be given a genus or species.
Before its death from unknown causes, traces of color and pattern found on the fossil led researchers to believe this was a flashy, handsome bird. The tail feathers were not built for flying, but were probably "associated with sexual display, species recognition or visual communication" or all three, according to the study.
Prior to this discovery, the only known prehistoric birds with ornamental tail feathers hailed from the northern supercontinent of Laurasia (China). "The Enantiornithes - this group just above Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis in the tree - was really global," Prum said, according to Live Science. "We would have figured it [out] from the few fossils here and there, but this is really a great find. [It's] a whole new continent where Enantiornithes were probably flying about."