We don not know for sure whether dinosaurs were dark green like in The Land Before Time, grayish brown like in Jurassic Park, or plain purple like Barney the Purple dinosaur was. Any attempt of associating a skin color with a certain dinosaur has been so far a guesswork.
When paleontologists discover a fossil or a single bone from a long extinct dinosaur they try to reconstruct the animal by comparing it with other specimens that were previously found. Next, they try to arrange muscles on the animal’s bone and imagine a shape after the markings of those bones.
Scientists can even tell whether dinosaurs had scales on them or feathers from the patterns preserved in the soil across the world. Yet, these skin impressions are extremely rare and they do not tell what color the animal had.
Skin color is provided by a pigment in the skin but skin color doesn’t leave traces like scales do. Dr. Caitlin Colleary of the Virginia Tech University explained how her team found a method to determine a fossil’s color.
She said that skin and feather impressions also contain melanin traces, so you theoretically could tell from the shape of melanosomes what color an ancient animal was.
The research team found about the possibility while studying the fossils of a now-extinct bat. Scientists said that they were able to tell what color two species of the bat were by just analyzing their fossils and skin impressions.
If the findings are confirmed, skin color will help researchers find out more about the environment in which the animals thrived and their behavior.
“It’s so funny to think about how we grew up looking at these textbooks that had pictures of dinosaurs but we didn’t know what color they actually were,”
But past studies has also tried to decode the real color of long-dead species. Seven years ago, a group of scientists from Yale found traces of melanosomes in a fossilized feather.
That was a finding that seemed minor at that point but it is huge today since melanosomes’ shape differ depending on the type of skin pigment, or type of melanin, they produce. Pigments such as eumelanin can give the skin a black or brownish color, while pheomelanin could give the skin a reddish tint.
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