Friday, February 5, 2010

Cretaceous & Jurassic Colors Come to Light

Recently, the era of the dinosaurs regained some of its actual coloring. Two studies published online in the journals Nature (Zhang and others, 2010) and Science (Li and others, 2010) describe plumage coloring in two small dinosaur species, Sinosauropteryx prima and Anchiornis huxleyi, from the early Cretaceous (ca. 125 million years ago) and the late Jurassic period (ca. 150 million years ago), respectively.

As in modern birds, pigments determine plumage color in dinosaurs. Researchers from the People's Republic of China, Great Britain and the United States achieved to accurately reconstruct patterns of pigment-bearing structures known as melanosomes in the feathers of dinosaur fossils from China. The reconstructions render two seemingly flightless bird-like creatures with clawed wings and richly-colored plumage.

Sinosauropteryx prima
S. prima (Zhang and others, 2010)

Anchiornis huxleyi
A. huxleyi (courtesy A. Weasley)

Below is a three-dimensional rendering of the specimen.

This video below informs us, how fossil feather colors are identified in more detail (11/13/10:

  • In his superbly illustrated article with the title "Piecing together T.Rex" posted online for The Wall Street Journal today, Robert Lee Hotz tells us that according to recent findings the ancestors of Tyrannosaurus rex were feathered. The accompanying slide show informs us about the work of reconstructing T. rex skeletons from a young, a juvenile, and an adult specimen. A new exhibit planned to open at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County next year will feature these reconstructions, showing recent findings on the giant meet eaters' ancestry and how they grew up. Adolescents gained an astounding four pounds a day (10/25/10).

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