Fossils Reveal The Colors Of Extinct Animals

Researchers at Virginia Tech and the University of Bristol have discovered melanin in fossil melanosomes. The discovery confirms the theory that melanosomes attached to remains can reveal the original colors of ancient animals. Caitlin Colleary, the lead researcher and current PhD candidate, worked with her team alongside the University of Bristol to conduct the study, the findings of which are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Melanosomes discovered in ancient fossils

The study was initiated in order to help scientists determine the colors of ancient animals and dinosaurs without having to make educated guesses. In 2008, researchers found what they believed to be melanosomes, or organelles that create the pigment melanin, in a fossilized feather. Upon the discovery, researchers thought that they would be able to decipher the original color of the animal by first identifying the shape of the melanosomes. This is due to the fact that melanosomes take on certain shapes depending on what pigment it is producing.

Many, however, were skeptical about this assertion, stating that there simply was not enough evidence to prove that the structures were actually melanosomes, rather than fossilized bacteria.

the study: Fossils and what they can reveal

The study, conducted at Virginia Tech University, eventually proved the initial hypothesis. To carry out the procedure, researchers utilized two different fossilized and extinct 50 million-year-old-bats for their study. Melanin found in the remains allowed scientists to determine the color of the organisms to be a reddish brown shade.

The finding is significant because the color of an animal can provide insight about what behaviors certain organisms had and what kind of environment they once lived in. With the successful results of this study, it is likely that the same procedure will be utilized for future research in order to better understand the world as it existed millions of years ago.