Karela Fry

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Dinosaurs in glorious full colour

with one comment

Sinosauropteryx may have had orange feathers and a stripey tail.

Sinosauropteryx may have had orange feathers and a stripey tail.

It was long suspected that dinosaurs were more colourful than Hollywood believed. Nature reported the first scientific findings about their true colours:

Pristine fossils of dinosaur feathers from China have yielded the first clues about their colour.

A team of palaeontologists led by Michael Benton of the University of Bristol, UK, and Zhonghe Zhou of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, has discovered ancient colour-producing sacs in fossilized feathers from the Jehol site in northeastern China that are more than 100 million years old.

These pigment-packed organelles, called melanosomes, have only been found in fossilized bird feathers before now.

The team discovered the melanosomes in fossils of the suborder Theropoda, the branch of the dinosaur family tree to which the flesh-eating species Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus belong. However, it was not in these two iconic dinosaurs that the organelles were found, but in smaller species that ran around low to the ground with tiny feathers or bristles distributed across their bodies.

The team discovered two types of melanosome buried within the structure of the fossil feathers: sausage-shaped organelles called eumelanosomes that are seen today in the black stripes of zebras and the black masks of cardinal birds, and spherical organelles called phaeomelanosomes, which make and store the pigment that creates the rusty reds of red-tailed hawks and red human hair.

Reconstruction of the plumage color of the Jurassic troodontid A. huxleyi. The tail is unknown in specimen BMNHC PH828 and reconstructed according to the complete specimen previously described

Reconstruction of the plumage color of the Jurassic troodontid A. huxleyi. The tail is unknown in specimen BMNHC PH828 and reconstructed according to the complete specimen previously described

Very soon there was another paper on the colours of a dinosaur; the abstract from Science reads:

For as long as dinosaurs have been known to exist, there has been speculation about their appearance. Fossil feathers can preserve the morphology of color-imparting melanosomes, which allow color patterns in feathered dinosaurs to be reconstructed. Here, we have mapped feather color patterns in a Late Jurassic basal paravian theropod dinosaur. Quantitative comparisons with melanosome shape and density in extant feathers indicate that the body was gray and dark and the face had rufous speckles. The crown was rufous, and the long limb feathers were white with distal black spangles. The evolution of melanin-based within-feather pigmentation patterns may coincide with that of elongate pennaceous feathers in the common ancestor of Maniraptora, before active powered flight. Feathers may thus have played a role in sexual selection or other communication.

Advertisements

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

February 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Dinosaurs in glorious full colourA team of palaeontologists led by Michael Benton of the University of Bristol, UK, and Zhonghe Zhou of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, has discovered ancient colour-producing sacs in fossilized … […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: