Researchers have found new ways to gather information about extinct animals, and now revealed how scientists can tell the color of ancient mammals that might impact all other previous studies. It’s not a simple matter of getting a better picture of what roamed the lands in the past. Color has a potentially crucial role in the animal’s life.
- Researchers first used this method in 2008, on a feather from a winged dinosaur, 105 million years old
- They further tested the technique on two species of 49 million year old bats
- They found that melanin pigments have their own shape in fossilized samples as well
- Scientists can now determine the color of mammals as far back as 300 million years
Scientists from Virginia Tech and the University of Bristol have managed to find a way to use a method from 2008 by the same researchers. They examined an ancient black and white feather in Brazil, dated 105 million years back. Their findings led to the knowledge that there was once a winged dinosaur, called Microraptor.
Molecular paleobiologist, Jakob Vinther, used this method to determine the color in fish, frogs, squid ink, and, of course, dinosaurs. It’s an important factor that might tell biologists more about what sort of environment they lived in, their means of protection or camouflage, manners of attracting mates, and others, according to Caitlin Colleary.
All the well-preserved fossilized samples contain melanin, which is the pigment that determines the color of the skin, eyes, hair, or even feathers. Melanin has its own form and it’s chemically distinct, which makes it easier to identify.
Furthermore, each different melanosome has a different shape when placed under examination. For example, “little meatballs” shaped melanin indicates reddish colors, while “little sausage” shapes means the animal was black.
After extensive studies, they found that this particular means of research is present in fossilized structures as well.
They used modern samples placed at high temperatures and strong pressures in order to determine how millions of years would impact the chemical structure. Their experiments unlocked new ways of gaining information about extinct animals that will undergo study from now on.
Scientists have state that this technique could determine the color of creatures even as old as 300 million years. Vinther’s team also dismissed the suggestions from skeptics who believed that these preserved structures were bacteria instead of melanosomes.
They used this particular method to find the color of an ancient bat, by observing samples of fossilized fur. Researchers studied the remains of Palaeochiropteryx and Hassianycteris bats, able to understand their reddish-brown color in spite of the fact that the species were 49 million years old.
Color plays a highly important role. It offers more insight into the past, but also in the evolution of animals. Knowing the color of a species can only further help scientists add more details to their findings.
The researchers now expect that already discovered fossilized samples will be given additional attention, in order to fill in the gaps and hopefully offer even more information about extinct species we thought we knew everything about.