Thursday, 5 July 2012

So how can you tell the colour of a dinosaur?

One of the many controversies surrounding Dinosaurs is how we can possibly know what colour they were. Recently, research on a turkey sized carnivorous dinosaur Sinosauropteryx, found in China, revealed the presence of melanosomes. A melanosome is specialised subunit (organelle) within a cell that contains melanin which is the most common light-absorbing pigment found in the animal kingdom. The melanosomes were found in the fossilised feathers or 'dino-fluff' which can be seen on the excellent fossil of Sinosauropteryx, illustrated below.

Looking at the tail and along the spine of Sinosauropteryx the darker 'fluff' is quite visible. Study of this feathery fluff indicated that it was most likely a red or rufous colour. For a paleoartistic perspective on Sinosauropteryx check out this National Geographic article. So Sinosauropteryx had a striped tail, and a ridge of rufous downy feathers along its spine! Work is now being done to find melanosomes in other specimens, to give a much more colourful understanding of dinosaurs.

I should also add that in my previous post I put forward that Archaeopteryx was not much of a flier, but more similar to a gliding mammal. Further reading today shows that the information I based this on is now out of date. It is now thought that Archaeopteryx was actually very capable of flight, much the same as a modern bird. To make up for this I give you a spectacular image of a fossil Archaeopteryx which is from the Berlin Museum for Nature.

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