So what color were dinosaurs really?


----------------

Forget everything you thought you knew about dinosaurs. It turns out that they weren’t necessarily the green scaly creatures many of us imagine. (Or purple and fluffy.) At least one of them had… get this… ginger feathers.

Much of what we know about dinosaurs comes from fossils which are great for size and shape, but not always that hot on color. That’s changed thanks to a link made by researchers in China and the United Kingdom.

A fossil found and analyzed a couple of years ago in Northern China contained immaculately preserved bird feathers which were in such good condition that an electron microscope could show their melanosomes. These are structures containing melanin, the pigment which determines the color of hair or fur.

Different shaped melanosomes produce different colors, with those in the case of the bird feathers being more spherical, which produces variations on red hair.

Researchers in Britain have now cross-referenced this discovery with a dinosaur known as Sinosauropteryx. Fossils showed it had a rim of bristles which were thought to be the base of feathers but this hadn’t previously been confirmed. Some scientists had argued this rim was in fact collagen.

Now closer study, using the lessons from the bird, shows that the dinosaur did indeed have feathers, arranged like a Mohican haircut then ran the entire length of its back. Even stranger, analysis of the melanosomes shows these feathers ran in ginger and white stripes.

There’s more to the discovery than the potential for coloring books to become more accurate, though. It gives much more backing to the idea that Sinosauropteryx’s family, the therapods, evolved into birds. It also shows that feathers did not originate to aid flight, instead most likely evolving to produce warmth.

The analysis can also be used on fossils of other dinosaurs to gain more knowledge about their coloring and whether this was used for attracting mates or as a form of camouflage.







2 Responses to So what color were dinosaurs really?

  1. This reminds me of a poem by musician Billy Crockett. I searched for appropriate copyright information at the US Copyright Office, but alas, to no avail. I do know that it is present on his 1998 live recording, “In These Days”, although I know it predates that release by a good five years, as there is a YouTube video from 1993 that references the poem, and even shows him displaying a t-shirt (he used to peddle them on a previous website), which even had the poem printed on it as well. Whatever — here is my transcription of it. (By the way – for those who may be unfamiliar with the animal or the artist, the name of the beast is derived from the author’s last name.)

    “The Crockosaurus”
    by Billy Crockett

    They handed out the crayons
    to each of us first-graders.
    Then the teacher passed between us
    and gave each a piece of paper.
    “Put aside your problems,” she said,
    “feet flat on the floor.
    We’re going to have fun now,
    and draw a dinosaur!”

    So, I quickly grabbed the crayon
    and I drew his big green eyes,
    the purple on his earlobes,
    his polka-dotted thighs,
    the pink and orange spikes
    that ran all down his tail,
    and as I colored in his toes,
    the teacher turned quite pale.

    “The colors are all wrong,” she said.
    “That isn’t how they look.”
    Then she held up some gray monster
    that she’d found in a book.
    “If you wouldn’t draw so fast,” she said,
    “you might learn a lot from science.”
    She really didn’t want my art;
    her interest was – COMPLIANCE.

    Well, I finished up his toenails,
    and I drew in his moustache,
    and I decked him out in pinstripes,
    and, yes, I flunked the class.
    But that teacher is extinct now,
    and the scientists are dead,
    and I still have my Crockosaurus —
    he’s dancing in my head.

  2. This reminds me of a poem by musician Billy Crockett. I searched for appropriate copyright information at the US Copyright Office, but alas, to no avail. I do know that it is present on his 1998 live recording, "In These Days", although I know it predates that release by a good five years, as there is a YouTube video from 1993 that references the poem, and even shows him displaying a t-shirt (he used to peddle them on a previous website), which even had the poem printed on it as well. Whatever — here is my transcription of it. (By the way – for those who may be unfamiliar with the animal or the artist, the name of the beast is derived from the author's last name.)

    "The Crockosaurus"

    by Billy Crockett

    They handed out the crayons

    to each of us first-graders.

    Then the teacher passed between us

    and gave each a piece of paper.

    "Put aside your problems," she said,

    "feet flat on the floor.

    We're going to have fun now,

    and draw a dinosaur!"

    So, I quickly grabbed the crayon

    and I drew his big green eyes,

    the purple on his earlobes,

    his polka-dotted thighs,

    the pink and orange spikes

    that ran all down his tail,

    and as I colored in his toes,

    the teacher turned quite pale.

    "The colors are all wrong," she said.

    "That isn't how they look."

    Then she held up some gray monster

    that she'd found in a book.

    "If you wouldn't draw so fast," she said,

    "you might learn a lot from science."

    She really didn't want my art;

    her interest was – COMPLIANCE.

    Well, I finished up his toenails,

    and I drew in his moustache,

    and I decked him out in pinstripes,

    and, yes, I flunked the class.

    But that teacher is extinct now,

    and the scientists are dead,

    and I still have my Crockosaurus —

    he's dancing in my head.