Anchiornis by Jonathan Kane, feat. Emily Willoughby

Anchiornis – by Jonathan Kane

What color is a dinosaur?
In older times you always guessed.
But microscopes can tell you more
Than plain conjecture at its best.
The understanding lacked before
Is with a struggle now possessed,
To learn the colors that I wore,
Like red within my crest.

As newer science comes along
To better understand the dead,
The finest paintings can be wrong,
Demanding others in their stead.
So always paint the color strong
On part of me that’s tinted red.
You know the place it will belong:
The crest upon my head.

Jonathan Kane

Listen to the poem below:

Anchiornis by J. Kane, recited by the author
Guest artwork by Emily Willoughby (website:

In late 2009, Jonathan & Emily were collaborating on a book called God’s Word or Human Reason?, criticizing the creationist movement they grew up with. They wanted to feature Anchiornis in their chapter on the origin of birds. Just as Emily was painting the finishing touches, a study came out on the true colours of Anchiornis! The poem references the fact that Emily had to repaint the animal to reflect new information.

Jonathan & Emily are looking for a publisher for their anthology of palaeopoems and artwork. If you’re interested in publishing their work, contact Jonathan Kane: microraptor[at]gmail[dot]com

The natural history of this poem

The subject of this poem is Anchiornis, a type of small dinosaur that lived during the Jurassic Period. Anchiornis (meaning “near-bird” in Greek) was closely related to both dromaeosaurs (commonly called “raptors”) and also modern birds. Like a bird it was covered completely in feathers, including long feathers on the tail and front limbs that very much resembled the feathers that modern birds have.

The colours in Anchiornis’ feathers were determined in 2010 when scientists used a scanning electron microscope (or SEM) on a fossil of Anchiornis which preserved fossilized feathers. The microscope images of the feathers showed melanosomes, which are some of the molecules that determine the colouration of bird feathers and other tissue types in other animals. The specific melanosomes in the feathers showed that Anchiornis was covered in black/dark grey to white feathers on the majority of its body, with the feather “crest” on its head being coloured a rusty red colour. This was the first time the colour of a dinosaur’s whole body was able to be reconstructed accurately!

Jonathan Kane & Emily Willoughby

Jonathan has been writing palaeontology-poetry for about 15 years, even before he knew Emily. A common theme of many of his Palaeopoems is that they are written with a dinosaur as the narrator, offering its perspective on its life or on what humans have learned about it.

Jonathan Kane

Paleontology is an extremely rich source of potential inspiration for poetry, but very few other contemporary writers are taking advantage of that, so I feel that I’m able to make much more of a unique contribution in this area than I could with regular paleoart.”
– Jonathan Kane

Emily Willoughby

Emily Willoughby and Jonathan Kane both are ex-creationists with similar backgrounds. They were raised in very religious, Evangelical Christian homes, but rebelled against that way of thinking when they were teenagers. Emily is now an atheist, and Jonathan is a deist, and they both place a lot of importance on countering creationist distortions of the fossil record. This shared interest of theirs resulted in their largest collaboration up to this point: God’s Word or Human Reason?, a book criticizing the creationist movement.

Further Reading

More on Anchiornis: