What was the True Color of Dinosaurs?

7 mins read
What was the True Color of Dinosaurs?
Sinosauropteryx, a small bipedal dinosaur (standing on both legs), had a face mask and shading similar to the one in the raku when chasing its prey during the Cretaceous Period. A: Bob Nicholls

In the last few decades, there has been no animal that has experienced a more radical change than non-bird dinosaurs. Thought to have nothing but pale gray and brown scales, these dinosaurs are now believed to have flamboyant feathers with bright colors and patterns. And what was the true color of the dinosaurs? And how do we know that?

Borealopelta, a dinosaur family dinosaur named Nodosaur, looked like an armored tank, but still needed shading to protect it from predators in the Cretaceous Period. C: Julius T. Csotonyi/Copyright Royal Tyrrell Museum

The scientist we should thank for the answer to both of these questions is Jakob Vinther, associate professor of macroeconomics at the University of Bristol in england. After the fossilized dinosaur feathers were first reported in 1996, scientists detected round microscopic structures inside them; Many scientists assumed that these structures were fossilized bacteria.

But as a PhD student working on a completely different animal, Vinther realized that these structures could be much more than fossilized bacteria.

“I was studying fossilized ink in primitive squid and octopus-like animals,” says Vinther. “Extremely well preserved.”

“If you remove the ink of the squid you bought from the fisherman and put it under the electron microscope, you will see excellent little round balls. If you put fossilized ink under the microscope, it will look exactly the same: perfect little round balls.”

These balls, which are microscopic drops of melanin pigment that give hair, skin, hair and eyes color in the animal kingdom, are called melonozom. Apparently, these round structures are the same as those thought to be bacteria in dinosaur feathers.

Most scientists thought the pigment could not survive the fossilization process, but discoveries made by scientists such as Vinther showed that while the pigment retains its structure in the process, it can also give us information about the true colors of extinct animals. Because melanin did not only appear in the form of “perfect little round balls”, each of the many different forms of melancholy produced a different color.

Anchiornis, the size of a crow, had black-and-white wings and a red sorghum above his head while living in the Jurassy Era. A: Carl Buel

“If you look at a person with black hair or a bird with black feathers, you see that their melanoma is sausage-shaped,” Vinther said. “But if you look at the migratory juniper bird with a red belly, or Scott Thompson, the red-haired player also known as Carrot Top, you’ll see melanomas with a shape similar to small meatballs.”

“So in short, you can determine the true color of an extinct animal by trying to detect sausage or meatball-shaped melanomas.”

Large, fat melanomas indicate gray or blue pigment. Long and thin, flat, hollow melanomas are indicative of glitter.

“In fact, this occurs when melancholy is regulated in the feather to create structures that can interact with light,” Vinther said. The flat or hollow shapes of individual melanomas allow them to blend in with each other, revealing the metallic brightness of the sparkle.

If you determine the shape of melanomas in a fossil, you can get all kinds of information about that animal. In this way, for example, it was learned that some dinosaurs with a frightening reputation were extremely flashy.

In “Jurassic Park,” there’s no one who doesn’t know velociraptor, who goes after kids in the kitchen. First of all, this dinosaur was covered in feathers. Unlike the naked creature we see in the film, this creature was like a bird. But what’s more, most of Velaciraptor’s close relatives were sparkling. So these had a metallic brightness, such as hummingbirds or peacocks.”

Sinosauropteryx, a small bipedal dinosaur (standing on both legs), had a face mask and shading similar to the one in the raku when chasing its prey during the Cretaceous Period. A: Bob Nicholls

Other dinosaurs had a complex camouflagent. The first dinosaur Vinther studied was a small bird-like animal called Anchiornis. Based on melanomas, Vinther and his team decided that this dinosaur had a gray body, white feathers with black spots on the ends, and a red sorghum (long plumage found on the tops of some birds) as in the woodpecker.

Another dinosaur, Sinosauropteryx, the first dinosaur to be discovered with feathers, had a striped tail and a “bandit mask”, just like raccoons. It also had a kind of shady, natural camouflaged, where the animal’s body parts, which are usually overshadowed, are more lightly pigmented than body parts left in sunlight. A classic example of this natural camouflage can be shown the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which has a white belly and a brown ridge.

This coloring informs scientists about the habitat of that creature; If, as with Sinosauropteryx, shading in the body is sharp and excessive, the animal probably lives in the open field. More gradual and lower shading on the body is indicative of a wooded environment in which light is more dispersed.

Camouflage also allows hunters to be distinguished from prey. Borealopelta markmitchelli, the giant armored dinosaur, seems to have no hunters who can hunt him, but his shading suggests otherwise.

“If you look at big animals like elephants and rhinos today, they don’t have any colorful patterns,” Vinther said. “This is because there are no hunters trying to hunt them.”

“So the fact that Borealopelta markmitchelli has shading even though it’s really covered in huge armor tells us that ‘Jurassic Park’ is really scary,” Vinther said.

Live Science. April 24th, 2022.