In the movies, dinosaurs are always shaped as superstars. They are covered with brown, green or pale white rough scaly skin, roaring in the rain; “ Jurassic Park” also tells us that Tyrannosaurus is dark brown, brachiosaurus is grey. To be honest, almost all the information we know about dinosaurs, including their shape, color and habits, comes from film and television works.
But are these assumptions correct? What does a dinosaur look like? What color is it?
We now know that many dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, such as the Hesperian nymphosaur, actually have feathers. When only the body structure and skin texture are involved, the imprinting of bone debris and skin fossils can provide enough information to faithfully reproduce the appearance of these animals. However, fossils cannot tell us their colors.
For fossils to indicate color, there must be organic matter, and only bones are not enough. Until recently, paleontologists have not found any pigments on fossils, but it turns out that they have found the wrong place.
In 2006, paleontologist Jacob Wences of the University of Bristol saw the cuttlefish ink from a squid fossil, and he was deeply attracted. He and his team were excited about the possibility that melanosomes existed in fossils, and then they analyzed a Cretaceous period feather and named their findings “the color of fossil feathers”.
Their discovery opened the floodgate for the practice of dinosaur color inference. So far, melanosomes found in existing fossils have been considered to be a biofilm keratinin bacteria. Melanosomes are about the size of these bacteria. These small spots show a special pattern, if it is really bacteria, it will not appear there, because they will not survive there indiscriminately.
In 2010, they studied the Chinese Sinosauropteryx fossils discovered in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, and successively published the color patterns of the two theropods, the near bird dragon and the Chinese dragon bird. The head feathers of Hirsch’s near-bird dragon appear bright red, and the wings show black and white patterns. The Chinese dragon bird has red and white stripes on its tail, which are bright maroon.
Soon, more dinosaurs were labeled with real colors. Raptor is a small winged dinosaur that lived 120 million years ago, with shiny black feathers, similar to today’s crows. The large dinosaur with a long horn on its head is rusty red, with a deep back and a shallow abdomen.
Of course, melanosomes are not the only way to determine color, because other colors may come from the animal’s diet, just like the pink color of flamingos. These pigments will not remain well over time, they will degrade and most will become black carbon. We currently have no access to this information.
Paleontologist Maria McNamara of University College London and her team are studying how the pigment in the fossil is degraded. If it is possible to decode these pigments, I believe we will see more new colors and patterns appear deep in history.
You may think, why should we care about the appearance of dinosaurs? They are extinct anyway.
In fact, determining whether dinosaurs have feathers and what color they are can tell scientists a lot about the life they may have experienced. The dull color may mean that dinosaurs don’t like to be seen, or the color is not important for them to find a spouse. And if there is evidence that dinosaurs have bright colors, it can lead to other questions: are their colors chosen based on sex, or for other purposes?
In the view of dinosaurs world, we should not underestimate any research at will. Scientists have invested time and energy in the study of color, which has its own profound significance. Those who blindly despise all efforts are rude and ignorant.
Understanding the true colors of dinosaurs can also help us study the evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and their modern offspring. There is always something you don’t know. All the reptiles we always think are related to dinosaurs are just a misunderstanding. There is evidence that modern birds are actually closer to dinosaurs than modern reptiles. This is what helped the establishment of genetic and fossil research on dinosaurs and their appearance.
Without research and verification, how could you know that the tall and mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex would not be dressed in a soft pink girl? In order to know exactly what the dinosaurs look like, apart from the time machine, we can only rely on their fossil remains.