Dinosaur Coloration: Primary, Secondary or Pastel Colors?

The color of dinosaurs is not something that most of us ever think about.

Off the top of most heads, the ubiquitous gray above and below sharp and gleaming incisors has always seemed to fit the essence of ancient raptors. But now things are different, and for the first time in history, scientists can now determine the full body color patterns of dinosaurs. The results of this new study were published in the journal, Science.

If you think there is an echo in here, you are almost right. While there was some previous very recent research concerning the first scientifically verified dinosaur color scheme, the pigments first discovered, which were published in Nature, were contained to a few isolated dinosaur parts. In addition, according to the authors of that report “they had used less rigorous methods for assigning colors to the fossilized, filament-like proto-feathers found on some dinosaur specimens.”

According to Derek Briggs, a co-author of the new study, “the other team’s report is based on isolated samples from several different taxa, so they can’t paint an entire animal.”

Both studies are important because they raise questions and offer significant insights concerning the behavior of dinosaurs and the mystery of why feathers evolved in the first place. The 155-million-year-old is the subject of the newest study, which is amazing considering that Anchiornis huxleyi was totally unknown to modern science only a short time ago.

This creature resembles a chicken-sized woodpecker with black and white wings and a red crown. Color patterns were decoded by a scanning electron microscope, which focused on the pigments from fossil feathers, which were then compared to those from modern birds. The team behind the study was led by paleontologist, Li Quanguo of the Beijing Museum of Natural History and Jakob Vinther, a graduate student in molecular paleo-biology at Yale University.

“Anchiornis shows that when elongate feathers first appear, they are already distinctively spotted and striped. We now have patterns within individual feathers in dinosaurs long before we get some kind of aerial locomotion. The new find’s implications for the evolution of feathering and flight are striking,” states study co-author, Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas in Austin.

In the words of paleontologist, Philip Currie of the University of Alberta in Canada:“Ever since we reported the first dark and light banding in dinosaur feathers in 1998, I figured there was a good chance that there might be traces that could tell us what some of the colors might have been. I am not sure that all artists will like the fact that we can now actually figure out the colors because over the years we have taken away more and more of their artistic license as we’ve learned the intimate details of dinosaurian anatomy.”

Both studies prove that the book about the dinosaur is still on its opening pages, with much more wondrous things to discover.

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