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Palaeontology

What color were ancient sea creatures ?

By T.K. Randall
January 9, 2014 · Comment icon 6 comments

A mosasaur skeleton. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 L'eau Bleue
Scientists have discovered traces of skin pigment in the fossilized remains of prehistoric sea beasts.
While we know from the discovery of fossils what many species of prehistoric ocean dwellers would have looked like, determining precisely what color these creatures would have been is proving to be something of a challenge.

Scientists have been able to gain some insight in to this by examining microscopic structures called melanosomes to determine coloration, but this technique doesn't provide a full picture.
Now a team of researchers have been able to take this one step further by identifying melanin, the pigment responsible for color, in the fossilized remains. The discovery has shown that the skin of many prehistoric sea creatures would have been very dark indeed.

Three specimens were examined as part of the research, a mosasaur dating back 85 million years, a leatherback turtle dating back 55 million years and a 190-million-year-old ichthyosaur.

"Determining colour in an ancient organism is more than a smart trick," said Professor Mike Benton. "For many animals, colour is crucial for sexual signalling, for camouflage, or for warning - think of stripy snakes - and so contributes hugely to the success of the evolution of the groups."

Source: BBC News | Comments (6)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Taun 10 years ago
I wonder how deep the waters were and how clear... If deep or 'murky' the black skin could have been a good camoflauge...
Comment icon #2 Posted by ancient astronaut 10 years ago
Whatever color they wanted to be.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Sundew 10 years ago
""If you look at leatherhead sea turtles today, they have very dark skin with huge amounts of pigment," said Dr Lindgren." You would think a doctor that studies marine animals would know it's a Leatherback Turtle. They are quite dark and are often found in cooler temperate waters where dark coloration can help them absorb heat at the surface. The more tropical marine turtles can be more colorful and not nearly so dark and drab. The coloration is not really so surprising, many large modern marine predators like sharks, dolphins, rays, and bill fishes are usually rather dark: blacks, browns, dar... [More]
Comment icon #4 Posted by danielost 10 years ago
The deep sea fishes of today are mostly red, because red light foes not penetrate that deep.
Comment icon #5 Posted by danielost 10 years ago
Suffice animals are usually dark on top and light on bottom, got cammoflsuge
Comment icon #6 Posted by Sundew 10 years ago
The deep sea fishes of today are mostly red, because red light foes not penetrate that deep. That depends to some extent on the depth, red colored animals are usually found at depths were at least some light penetrates. Since red light is absorbed quickly at shallow depths, the animals appear black. If you get into depths where no light at all penetrates the animals are often actually black.


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