Fossil bird’s feather’s colour discoveries


This video says about itself:

Scientists are one step closer to knowing the true colors of some dinosaurs. Yale researchers found a clue to colors in bird feather fossils. This ScienCentral video explains.

From Yale University in the USA:

Scientists find evidence of iridescence in 40 million-year-old feather fossil

New Haven, Conn.—Known for their wide variety of vibrant plumage, birds have evolved various chemical and physical mechanisms to produce these beautiful colors over millions of years. A team of paleontologists and ornithologists led by Yale University has now discovered evidence of vivid iridescent colors in feather fossils more than 40 million years old.

The finding, published online August 26 in Biology Letters, signifies the first evidence of a preserved color-producing nanostructure in a fossilized feather.

Iridescence is the quality of changing color depending on the angle of observation, such as the rainbow of colors seen in an oil slick. The simplest iridescent feather colors are produced by light scattering off the feather’s surface and a smooth surface of melanin pigment granules within the feather protein. Examining feather fossils from the Messel Shale in Germany with an electron microscope, scientists have documented this smooth layer of melanin structures, called melanosomes.

“These feathers produced a black background with a metallic greenish, bluish or coppery color at certain angles—much like the colors we see in starlings and grackles today,” said Richard Prum, chair of the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Yale and one of the paper’s authors.

For more than 25 years, paleontologists have found microscopic tubular structures on fossilized feathers and hair. These were long interpreted as bacteria that had digested the feathers at the time they were fossilized. The team had previously discovered that these structures were in fact not bacteria but melanosomes, which then allowed them to document the original color patterns. Following up on the new finding, they are racing to discover what additional coloration features may be found in fossil feathers.

“The discovery of ultra-structural detail in feather fossils opens up remarkable possibilities for the investigation of other features in soft-bodied fossils, like fur and even internal organs,” said Derek Briggs, Yale’s Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Geology and Geophysics, and an author of the study.

The discovery could pave the way for determining color features of other ancient birds and even dinosaurs, the team said.

“Of course, the ‘Holy Grail’ in this program is reconstructing the colors of the feathered dinosaurs,” said Yale graduate student and lead author Jakob Vinther. “We are working hard to determine if this will be possible.”

See also here.

From dinosaur to bird: how Anchiornis huxleyi adds to the story: here.

7 thoughts on “Fossil bird’s feather’s colour discoveries

  1. Investigation of feathers from the famous Middle Eocene Messel Oil Shale near Darmstadt, Germany shows that they are preserved as arrays of fossilized melanosomes, the surrounding beta-keratin having degraded. The majority of feathers are preserved as aligned rod-shaped eumelanosomes. In some, however, the barbules of the open pennaceous, distal portion of the feather vane are preserved as a continuous external layer of closely packed melanosomes enclosing loosely aligned melanosomes. This arrangement is similar to the single thin-film nanostructure that generates an iridescent, structurally coloured sheen on the surface of black feathers in many lineages of living birds. This is, to our knowledge, the first evidence of preservation of a colour-producing nanostructure in a fossil feather and confirms the potential for determining colour differences in ancient birds and other dinosaurs.

    http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/6/1/128.short?rss=1

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