Non-integumentary melanosomes can bias reconstructions of the colours of fossil vertebrates

Journal: Nature Communications

Published: 2018-07-23

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05148-x

Affiliations: 5

Authors: 7

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Research Highlight

Reassessing clues to ancient animal colours

© Kurit Afsheen/EyeEm/Getty

© Kurit Afsheen/EyeEm/Getty

Cellular clues for recreating fur and feather colours of ancient animals are not just skin deep.

Structures inside animal skin cells known as melanosomes control the colour of hair, scales and feathers. They are also found in internal organs of modern animals, so melanosomes in fossils might not reliably recreate skin colour. A team including researchers from University College Cork analysed melanosomes from modern and fossilized frogs and found that melanosomes in internal tissues outnumber those in skin cells. They are also highly likely to become fossilized, so if disturbances during the decay process redistribute internal melanosomes around the carcass, it becomes harder to distinguish which ones came from the skin.

The researchers found they could identify the origin of melanosomes based on their different size and shapes, which may enable palaeontologists to accurately reconstruct the colours of ancient reptiles, birds and dinosaurs.

Supported content

  1. Nature Communications 9, 2878 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-05148-x
Institutions Share
University College Cork (UCC), Ireland 0.29
University of Bristol (UoB), United Kingdom (UK) 0.29
Fujita Health University, Japan 0.29
University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland 0.14