Everything you thought you knew about dinosaur colours is wrong


EXCERPT: . . . Long thought an impossible dream, the emerging field of palaeocolour is revolutionising our view of the prehistoric world, turning it from black-and-white into glorious technicolour. So far only a handful of dinosaurs, insects and reptiles have been studied but, as Johan Lindgren, a scientist from the University of Lund, says, “We’re only just scratching on the surface.”

Finding evidence of colour in the fossil record will do much more than simply tell us what hue to paint a T-Rex. Bones can fossilise. but behaviour does not. “When we look at the animals and plants we see in the world around us we see striking colours and colour patterns,” says Maria McNamara from the University of Cork. “Animals use colour for camouflage, for avoiding predators, for mating signals and also for signalling within their social group. So evidence of colour in animals has the potential to tell us about this very enigmatic aspect of the biology of ancient organisms.”

Despite this, it is only in the decade that palaeocolour has become an area of serious research. [...] palaeocolour can bring new insights into the daily lives of long-dead creatures. For instance, it had long been presumed that the small, four-winged Microraptor was nocturnal, based on the large size of its eye sockets. Then [...it was discovered...] that the dinosaur possessed iridescent plumage (an example of structural colour) – something that would make no sense if this dinosaur were active only at night.

It can also tell us about the environment an animal lived in. Typically scientists gather clues by looking at other fossil animals and plants found nearby -- but this technique falls down if the animal’s body has been transported – by, for example, a river – away from the place where it had lived.

[url=http://www.bristol.ac.uk/earthsciences/people/jakob-vinther/index.html]Jakob Vinther[/rul] studied the fossil of a small, plant-eating dinosaur called Psittacosaurus, a relative of Triceratops, and concluded that it had a dark back and pale belly – a colour arrangement known as counter-shading. Common among modern animals ranging from whales to deer, both predators and prey use it to blend in with their surroundings. (Parts normally in shadow are light; parts normally exposed to the sky are dark.) The amount and distribution of the light and dark areas typically corresponds to different habitats e.g. open plains or dark forest floor. The counter-shading on the Psittacosaurus suggests that it lived in a habitat with diffuse light, such as a canopy forest.

In his workshop [Paleoartist Robert] Nicholls shows me the model of the Psittacosaurus that he developed with Vinther. About the size of a Labrador, this rather cute looking creature has a distinctive parrot-billed beak and a dark brown and orange mottled back that becomes progressively paler, down to a creamy underbelly. “What I really like about this colour reconstruction work is that you’re the one defining what an animal looks like, down to the colour pattern, for the first time,” Nicholls says. “Being able to show people something that no one has ever seen before. That is the best.”

MORE: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/paleocol...saur-facts

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