The colour mys­tery solved

How It Works - - HISTORY -

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.

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