New Clues to True Dinosaur Colors Discovered

Through our advancing technology and increased expertise in fossil analysis, we’ve come to understand a number of things about dinosaurs like their relative age, size, and approximate shape. Recently we discovered that there were some dinosaurs that had feathers of some kind. Once this was established many dinosaur experts sought to create a visual image but one singular piece of information was missing. What color were they?

It might seem like a small detail to focus on, but in reality information about the avian dinosaur’s colors could potentially give clues to specialists about the dinosaur’s communication, behavioral patterns and other important evolutionary data. Naturally, there had been a lot of theories and speculation. Some experts felt that avian dinosaurs had hot pink colored feathers while others believed that these feathers were in fact jet black.

For a while, the question simply remained unanswered as scientists tried to determine if actual color pigments could be fossilized along with the other organic remains. When a viable fossil was found that could help scientists test their theory, feather samples from the Anchiornis huxleyi fossil (a more feathered and more primitive cousin of the Archaeopteryx) were scraped from the fossil and analyzed using time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry and infrared reflectance spectroscopy.

The results confirmed that the molecules from those feather samples contained cells that closely matched other pigment cells found in present day cuttlefish, meaning that at least some of the feathers were indeed inky black. These results also proved that pigment cells, known in the science world as melanosomes could be fossilized and give other clues as to the true colors of dinosaurs.

Even with all this knowledge there are some things we just may never know as hot pink feathers could result from an animal’s diet and therefore, deteriorate over time, long before the fossil was found. Regardless, through the use of spectroscopy and spectrometry scientists were able to uncover one more crucial puzzle piece in the mystery of these reptilian inhabitants.

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