What Color was that Dinosaur?
The past is in black and white. It is very hard to tell what color was a dinosaur from looking at its fossilized bones. In the past, experts have basically guessed what color ancient animals were as colors are rarely preserved in fossils. But recent discoveries of color-producing structures in fossil insects and feathers are helping scientists solve this mystery and learn about the evolution of color and its role in communication. The cutting-edge science and technology which has uncovered this new knowledge will be demonstrated at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which runs from 2 to 7 July in London and attracts 15,000 visitors each year.
The exhibition provides the public with a unique opportunity to interact with scientists and ask questions about their work. The exhibition involves a highly competitive selection process, with only 22 research groups chosen to host an exhibit — meaning the UK’s leading scientific research is collated in one place.
The Bristol University exhibit, entitled "Prehistoric colors in fossil insects and feathers", features interactive fossilization experiments, a high-tech scanning electron microscope, a fossilization video game and lots of genuine fossils.
Pigments were found in fossil dinosaurs for the first time in 2010.
The discovery may prove once and for all that dinosaurs' hairlike filaments—sometimes called dino fuzz—are related to bird feathers.
The 2010 study identified fossilized melanosomes pigment-bearing organelles—in the feathers and filament-like "protofeathers of fossil birds and dinosaurs from northeastern China.
These earlier findings proved it was possible for melanosomes from dinosaur times to survive in fossils.
Led by academics in the School of Earth Sciences, the new 2013 exhibit is being put on by a team of 18 palaeontologists from Bristol, Ireland, China and the USA.
Exhibit coordinator Dr Maria McNamara said: "Not many people know that fossils can show traces of color. Our exhibit is a unique opportunity to excite thousands of people by science, especially hot topics in palaeontology and geology such as fossil color."
Using modern insects and feathers, scientists have conducted experiments to measure the effects of pressure, temperature and chemicals on colors to see if and how they change over time.
They then examine fossils using powerful electron microscopes and identify which fossils have accurately preserved their colors. This will help scientists identify important changes in the evolution of color and how it was used by animals in the past.
Dinosaur image via Wikipedia.