Scientists have discovered that fossils hide even more information than previously believed. A new study carried out by a team from the University of Bristol has found that simply analyzing pigments preserved within fossils is enough to get a sense of what color each ancient animal had.
The new project was inspired by an earlier study conducted back in 2008. The older investigation revealed that fossil melanosomes, a known source of melanin, can be found in fossilised feathers.
Ever since they first read about it, Caitlin Colleary, the study’s lead author, and her colleagues have been analyzing melanosome shapes in hope of finding a method that they can use to deduce the color each ancient animal had.
Colleary offered a statement explaining that researchers can tell the color of a variety of animal groups, not just dinosaurs. She shared that she and her colleagues “have now studied the tissues from fish, frogs, and tadpoles, hair from mammals, feathers from birds, and ink from octopus and squids”.
Since all of the extinct species that the team has looked at so far have preserve melanin, Colleary informed that “it’s safe to say that melanin is really all over the place in the fossil record. Now we can confidently fill in some of the original color patterns of these ancient animals”.
For the study, the research team was aided by a special instrument that allowed field experts to spot the molecular make-up that the melanosomes in each fossil were hiding. They then compared them to melanosomes in modern day species in order to learn the conditions surrounding the formation of each fossil and find out how to replicate them.
All of these tests and experiments helped Colleary and her colleagues figure out how the chemical signatures belonging to these fossils have changed over the millennia, on a chemical level.
What the team behind the project is most excited about is that the scientific community now has a means of unlocking information that was previously off limits to them due to the fact that they had no knowledge of how to gain access to if from fossils.
As of right now, the research team has only used the method of deducing color on two (2) extinct bat species. Both fossils dated back 50 million years, but Colleary mentioned that said method works just fine on fossils of species that roamed the Earth 300 million years ago.
Being able to tell which colors an extinct animal species had would likely help researchers have a better understanding of how these creatures tracked their mates, how they protected themselves, what their environments were like, and how they lived.
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