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WASHINGTON–Scientists have for the first time confirmed colour in a dinosaur. Don't think purple Barney, but reddish-orange Conan O'Brien.
The first solid proof of pigmentation has been spotted in the fossilized tail feathers of a smallish meat-eating dinosaur found in China named Sinosauropteryx. The creature seems to have russet coloured rings, according to a paper published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.
That 125 million-year-old tail has the same internal cellular colouring agents as the hair of a red-haired person, said study lead author Mike Benton, a professor of paleontology at the University of Bristol in England. And the same finding provides what some experts say is even more conclusive evidence that some dinosaurs had feathers, further linking them to birds.
Benton and his colleagues didn't actually see the reddish colour itself. Using an electron microscope, they spotted the specific cellular signs of the colour. An earlier study by another group of researchers and Benton's team found similar cellular colour hints in prehistoric bird feathers.
Drawings of dinosaurs show them in all sorts of hues, usually earth tones such as brown and grey, but until now, there was no proof of any colouring.
"That's really cool just to be able to pin down this aspect," said University of Maryland paleontologist Thomas Holtz Jr., who wasn't part of the discovery team. "It does sort of help bring a more complete view of the living creature ... and further from just being a bunch of bones."