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Pigments reveal extinct reptiles’ dark side

Posted January 9, 2014
Pigments reveal extinct reptiles' dark side
Fossil pigments reveal melanic (dark) colouration of extinct marine reptiles. Note that the leatherback turtle (top) and mosasaur (bottom) are countershaded (have a dark back and light belly), whereas the ichthyosaur (centre) is uniformly dark-coloured. Credit: Stefan Sølberg
What did Tyrannosaurus rex really look like? Depending on which artist’s impression you look at, the carnivorous king of the Cretaceous was a dull grey, an earthy brown, maybe a dark green… perhaps it was ochre, or even the colour of a bright lime.

New insights into prehistoric fossils, published on Wednesday, may one day help determine what the great dinosaurs looked like in real life.

Scientists said they had uncovered the first-ever traces of pigment in reptile fossils—a dark hue found in three extinct deep-sea beasts distantly related to today’s leatherback turtle.

“This is the first time that… remains of original pigments have been detected in any (extinct) reptile, including dinosaurs,” Johan Lindgren of Sweden’s Lund University told AFP.

The next challenge will be to identify more pigments, helping palaeontologists to reconstruct the colouring of extinct animals.

“This finding potentially allows us to reconstruct the colours of T.rex in future,” said Lindgren, though for now experts are limited to distinguishing dark areas from light ones.

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