What color were the dinosaurs? Discover how science determines this mystery

It has been more than 20 years since we discovered that the color of dinosaurs, as well as their physical disposition, were not limited to the “lizards” of brown or dark gray scales and that, in fact, not only some of them until and all had hair and feathers, most of the ancient animals that ruled the Earth had vibrant and remarkable colors.

Today we have many more scientific facts about what most dinosaurs were like, but how did we come to this conclusion? And besides, how can we determine the truth of this today?

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Contrary to popular belief, dinosaurs were brightly colored, and we know exactly how to tell them thanks to the microscopic pockets of melanin found in fossils (Image: Daniel Eskridge /)

Well, the answer lies in contemporary animals and some of their ancestors, according to Jakob Vinther, an associate professor of macroevolution at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. In an interview with LiveScience, he explained how he made his discovery by accident.

“I was analyzing fossilized ink from old squid and octopus,” the expert said. “It was amazingly well-preserved. You can extract the ink from a real squid or octopus bought at a fair and look at it under an electron microscope: you’ll see perfectly round tiny balls. And if you look at the fossilized ink, you’ll see the same rounds.

According to Vinther, these “balls” are called “melanosomes.” They are basically small spherical objects filled with melanin, the same substance that colors hair, skin, eyes, skin, and feathers throughout the animal kingdom. In the past, we mistakenly thought that this device was just a collection of bacteria that fossilized in the bodies of dinosaurs. Well, we thought wrong.

Vinther’s research dispels a long-standing scientific myth that melanin could not survive the fossilization process. Well, not only can it, but it tells us exactly what color is the living thing from which it was extracted, thanks to the fact that it takes specific shapes that dictate the color it will produce.

“If you look at a black-haired person or a bird with black feathers, those melanosomes look like sausages,” the researcher said. “If you’re red-haired, like a thrush’s chest [um tipo de pássaro do norte dos EUA] or Carrot Top hair [comediante americano, nome real: Scott Thompson] – then they will have meatball shapes. So, basically, you look for sausages or balls, and with that information you determine the color of the animals that disappeared when they were alive.

Specifically, it is the shape of the melanosome that determines how it interacts with light and, as a result, reproduces a particular color. In the case of dinosaurs, large fat melanosomes predominated (blue or gray pigmentation) and also some flattened or hollow melanosomes, a sign of iridescence and more metallic aspects.

From this knowledge, it is possible to determine other aspects of animals: for example, dinosaurs known to be afraid were quite striking. think of the first Jurassic Parkwhere velociraptors chase children in the kitchen; in reality, they would not be these naked, scaly animals, but visually multicolored and feathery, almost metallic.

At the same time, dinosaurs with a more defensive character wore less striking colors to create a natural camouflage and integrate with the environment.

This discovery also allows us to determine the habitat of the animal: where there was a great contrast of colors, the dinosaur probably lived in open areas, with a strong incidence of light. The less obvious colors, on the other hand, indicated an experience in the woods, where the sun was more diffuse.

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