Paleontologists have just found that there is a way to determine the skin color of dinosaurs. The study was released in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team of scientists discovered that by analyzing the microscopic structure of the fossilized remains of prehistoric animals, they can indicate the color of the creatures. The process was first applied on some fossils that are as old as 50 million years. Until now, scientists from all across the world thought that melanin could not be found in ancient fossils.
However, the people from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University of Bristol discovered that there is a way to determine what type of melanin these creature had by analyzing the patterns of some microscopic structures found in the fossils.
Melanin is a pigment that determines the skin, hair and eye colors of all animals living on Earth.
The fossil geologists first analyzed was an ancient bat. They have found that the prehistoric animal was of a brown color. The findings may help researchers from all over the world understand how many other creatures of that time looked like, such as mammals, birds, fish, and certain dinosaurs.
Jakob Vinther, co-author of the study, who is a professor at the University of Bristol, found back in 2008 that fossils contain melanin in the form of melanosomes. Until then, scientists though that the fossilized structures were preserved ancient bacteria.
It turns out that melanin can be found in all fossils that were found until now. That means scientists have a lot of catching up to do in order to determine the colors of all ancient animals and dinosaurs found so far. Caitlin Collary, co-author of the study, researcher at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, noted that the melanosomes found in the fossils will help them finally determine what were the colors of dinosaurs and giant marine reptiles.
Jakob Vinther said that the color of all prehistoric animals can be determined by the aspect of the melanosomes. Vinther explains that if the animals had a readdish brown color, such as the ancient bat they have studied, the fossil will contain melanosomes shaped like meatballs. If the animals appeared black, their melanosomes would look more like sausages, and so on.
What is most fascinating about the new technology is that it can be applicable on any species of animals. However, the task is time consuming and more complex than Vinther led us to believe.
It turns out that in order to find what is the color of these prehistoric animals researchers need to identify more than just the shapes of these microscopic structures. Chemical markers are still needed in order to verify if the color guesses were correct, and comparisons with their modern descendants are also recommended.
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