Hues of the past: How we determine the colors of prehistoric animals

dinosaur full
Image: Mark Garlick / Science Photo Library

[Paleontologist Maria McNamara] studies tissues from insects and vertebrates in order to envision what these critters looked like and how they interacted with their environments—what their predators were, where they lived, what their mating habits may have been and more.

[Smithsonian:] In what ways does color develop in nature?

[McNamara:] Color can be produced in two different ways. Many modern organisms, including animals, produce color using pigments. Pigments are chemicals that selectively absorb light of specific wavelengths.

Structural color doesn’t use pigments at all and instead uses very ornate tissue structures at the nanoscale. Basically some animals’ tissues will fold into highly complex structures at the nanometer level—or in other words, at same scale as the wavelength of light. Those structures affect the way light passes through biological tissues, so they can essentially filter out certain wavelengths and produce really strong colors.

Related article:  Genetic analysis reshapes our understanding of when humans first arrived in North America

[Smithsonian:] What types of fossils preserve color best?

[McNamara:] We think we should be looking for fossils preserved in the mineral calcium phosphate. That was the case with the snake that we studied in 2016. The colors of the snake are preserved; the whole skin of the snake is preserved.

Read full, original post: How Do Scientists Know What Colors Prehistoric Animals Were?

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
ft covidresponseus feature

Video: Viewpoint: The US wrote the global playbook on the coronavirus and then ignored it

A year ago, the United States was regarded as the country best prepared for a pandemic. Our government had spent ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
globalmethanebudget globalcarbonproject cropped x

Infographic: Cows cause climate change? Agriculture scientist says ‘belching bovines’ get too much blame

A recent interview by Caroline Stocks, a UK journalist who writes about food, agriculture and the environment, of air quality ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
gmo corn field x

Do GMO Bt (insect-resistant) crops pose a threat to human health or the environment?

Bt is a bacterium found organically in the soil. It is extremely effective in repelling or killing target insects but ...
favicon

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend