The colour mystery solved
We may now know that many dinosaurs were adorned with some sort of feathered coat, but what colours were they? If we look to today’s avian descendants of the dinosaurs, birds, we see a spectrum of coloured plumage used to perform a bunch of different functions, such as camouflage and attracting a mate. But with limited insight into a dinosaur species’ behaviour, we can only make an educated guess as to how these factors could have contributed to their feather colour. Fortunately, precious fossil evidence lends us concrete proof of the colours worn by dinosaurs, for some colours at least. Using sophisticated microscopes, in well-preserved fossils we can identify impressions of pigment molecules that have been preserved for tens of millions of years. These pigments have well-defined shapes that are responsible for particular colours, which enable scientists to determine if a dinosaur’s feathers bore this hue. We can also compare the structures of these ancient pigments against modern-day birds, allowing us to unlock the secrets of the past by using the present.