Scientists can finally tell which color each dinosaur had by simply analyzing the pigments preserved within their fossils.
So far, researchers from the University of Bristol and from Virginia Tech have successfully determined the colors of ancient animals as old as 50 million years, but they say that their method would work just fine on creatures that are 300 million years old.
The new study was inspired by previous research conducted in 2008. Back then, another group of researchers showed that fossilised feather contain fossil melanosomes, a source of melanin.
Although Caitlin Colleary, lead researcher on the new study, and her team have been have been examining melanosome shapes and trying to find a method to figure out the colors of dinosaurs ever since the older study was published, they’ve just recently made their breakthrough.
Colleary gave a statement informing that field experts can not only tell the colors of dinosaurs, but a variety of other extinct species as well. She said that she and her team “have now studied the tissues from fish, frogs, and tadpoles, hair from mammals, feathers from birds, and ink from octopus and squids”.
Since the fossils collected from all of these species have been found to preserve melanin, Colleary believes that “it’s safe to say that melanin is really all over the place in the fossil record. Now we can confidently fill in some of the original color patterns of these ancient animals”.
For their study, the researchers used a special instrument that allowed them to accurately identify what molecular make-up the melanosomes in each fossil had. They also compared them to modern day melanosomes in order to understand the conditions surrounding the formation of the fossils and be able to replicate them.
All of these steps led to Colleary and her team finding out how the chemical signatures of these fossils have changed over time. The lead researcher explained that incorporating these experiments helped the team see how melanin changes over millions of years, on a chemical level.
The grand achievement is that field experts now have a way to unlock information that was previously unavailable to them as they didn’t know how to access it from fossils.
What the researchers did was combine the shapes that melanosomes had with the chemical structure found in melanin, which allowed them to take a look at the structures of melanosomes. Along the way, they also found chemical proof that fossils preserve melanin.
So far they used their method on two (2) extinct bat species, both with fossils dating back 50 million years, however Colleary informed that it can be used to figure out the colors of species that roamed the Earth even before that. Two-hundred-and-fifty (250) million years before that.
Being able to deduce the color of extinct animals can help researchers gain a better understanding of how they lived. It can reveal what their environments were like, how they tracked their mates, and how they protected themselves.
The findings were published earlier this week, in the journal PNAS.
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