Sunday, February 7, 2010

We Now Know (Some) Dinosaurs' Colors

I find this very cool because most assumed it would be impossible to know dinosaurs' actual colors. However, over the past two weeks, that has changed. Two separate teams of paleontologists, studying the incredibly well-preserved feathers of dinosaurs found in the Liaoning Province of China, have announced the first scientific determinations of dinosaur color.

The first study, published in the journal Nature, concerns the thin feathery filaments covering the turkey-sized Sinosauropteryx (pictured left). The research team was able to locate fossilized melanosomes, the same cellular structures that give modern birds their feather colorations. After studying these melanosomes, the paleontologists were able to determine that the Sinosauropteryx's feathers were a light brown in color.

Another study published this week in Science goes even further. Using more advanced techniques, the paleontological team behind the study analyzed the entire color scheme of the chicken-sized Anchiornis, and were able to create a full body rendering of the creature when it was alive (pictured below).

Just looking at the stark color differences between these two dinosaurs means there must have been incredible color diversity amongst all dinosaurs, just like modern birds. Sure, this technique won't help us with non-feathered dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus or Edmontosaurus, but these studies do show that we should never say never. Who knows what science may uncover.

Sinosauropteryx illustration courtesy of James Robbins. Anchiornis illustration courtesy of Michael DiGiorgio.

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