All rights reserved. National Geographic magazine senior editor, for National Geographic News. For the first time, scientists have decoded the full-body color patterns of a dinosaur , a new study in the journal Science says. That may sound familiar, given last week's announcement of the first scientifically verified dinosaur color scheme.
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In last week's issue of the journal Nature , scientists described the discovery of melanosomes , biological structures that give feathers their color, in the wispy "dinofuzz" of the small theropod Sinosauropteryx. Not only did this provide unequivocal evidence that the dinosaur had a downy coat of feathers, but the presence of the microscopic structures provided scientists the potential to find out what color those feathers were.
When I read the Nature study I wondered how long it would be before scientists would be able to find a way to conclusively determine the colors of feathered dinosaurs from their preserved melanosomes. As it turned out, I would only have to wait a week. In this week's issue of Science , a second team of scientists has restored a recently-discovered feathered dinosaur, Anchiornis huxleyi , in living color.
As described in last week's study there are two major varieties of melanosomes: eumelanosomes associated with black-grey shades and phaemelanosomes indicative of reddish to yellow tints. Both of these kinds of structures can be seen in the fossilized feathers of exquisitely-preserved dinosaurs, but the question is how they corresponded to the actual colors of the animal.
The melanosomes cannot speak for themselves; they require a key to unlock what colors might have been present. Acquiring that key was a two-step process. To figure out how melanosomes were distributed across the plumage of Anchiornis , the team behind the Science paper took 29 chips from different parts of a well-preserved specimen. Each chip had a different combination of melanosomes, and to translate these associations into colors the team turned to the closest living relatives of dinosaurs like Anchiornis , birds.
By looking at how melanosomes create colors in these modern dinosaurs the scientists could determine how different mixes creates different tints and shades. While the restoration of Anchiornis the team produced is still provisional, it is the first time that scientists have been able to hypothesize the full coloration of a dinosaur on direct fossil evidence.
According to the new research, Anchiornis would have been mostly black with white accents on its wings which it carried on both its arms and legs. Its head, however, would have been a little more brightly colored. It appears that Anchiornis had a burnt-orange headdress and freckles, possibly meaning that these bright colors played a role in communicating to other birds.
Which makes me wonder if, like modern birds, colors differed between the sexes. And this is just the start. In the past decade paleontologists have described dozens of species of feathered dinosaurs from hundreds of known specimens. There is a vast store of paleobiological information just waiting to be tapped, and it will literally change the way we see dinosaurs.
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Fossil feather colors really ARE written In stone
Scientists have long speculated that dinosaurs were a dull brown or mottled gray. But researchers studying the fossils of an ancient dinosaur say they've found new evidence the creature sported vibrantly colored feathers. The discovery expands scientists' understanding not only of how some dinosaurs looked but also how they behaved. US and Chinese Scientists reconstructed the plumage of a million-year-old flightless dinosaur called Anchiornis huxleyi, using an electron microscope and thirty fossilized feathers that once covered the cat-sized creature. Researchers focused their attention on chemical compounds in the feathers called melanosomes tiny, pigment-producing structures that formed in the feather during the creature's development.
Dinosaurs, Now in Living Color
Until last week, paleontologists could offer no clear-cut evidence for the color of dinosaurs. Then researchers provided evidence that a dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx had a white-and-ginger striped tail. And now a team of paleontologists has published a full-body portrait of another dinosaur, in striking plumage that would have delighted that great painter of birds John James Audubon. Prum, an evolutionary biologist at Yale and co-author of the new study, published in Science.
Evidence Builds on Color of Dinosaurs
In last week's issue of the journal Nature , scientists described the discovery of melanosomes , biological structures that give feathers their color, in the wispy "dinofuzz" of the small theropod Sinosauropteryx. Not only did this provide unequivocal evidence that the dinosaur had a downy coat of feathers, but the presence of the microscopic structures provided scientists the potential to find out what color those feathers were. When I read the Nature study I wondered how long it would be before scientists would be able to find a way to conclusively determine the colors of feathered dinosaurs from their preserved melanosomes. As it turned out, I would only have to wait a week. In this week's issue of Science , a second team of scientists has restored a recently-discovered feathered dinosaur, Anchiornis huxleyi , in living color. As described in last week's study there are two major varieties of melanosomes: eumelanosomes associated with black-grey shades and phaemelanosomes indicative of reddish to yellow tints.
Yale Scientists First to Reveal Flamboyant Colors of a Dinosaur’s Feathers
Deciphering microscopic clues hidden within fossils, scientists have uncovered the vibrant colors that adorned a feathered dinosaur extinct for million years, a Yale University-led research team reports online Feb. Unlike recently published work from China that inferred the existence of two types of melanin pigments in various species of feathered dinosaurs, the Science study analyzed color-imparting structures called melanosomes from an entire fossil of a single animal, a feat which enabled researchers to reveal rich color patterns of the entire animal. In fact, the analysis of melanosomes conducted by Yale team was so precise that the team was able to assign colors to individual feathers of Anchiornis huxleyi, a four-winged troodontid dinosaur that lived during the late Jurassic period in China. This dinosaur sported a generally gray body, a reddish-brown, Mohawk-like crest and facial speckles, and white feathers on its wings and legs, with bold black-spangled tips. The color patterns of the limbs, which strongly resemble those sported by modern day Spangled Hamburg chickens, probably functioned in communication and may have helped the dinosaur to attract mates, suggested Prum. Vinther was studying the ink sac of an ancient squid and realized that microscopic granular-like features within the fossil were actually melanosomes — a cellular organelle that contains melanin, a light-absorbing pigment in animals, including birds. While some scientists thought these granules were remnants of ancient bacteria, Vinther, Prum and Derek E.