STL Science Center

STL Science Center

20 January 2016

Coloring Your Feathers

The preservation of soft tissue structures, including pigmentation, blood, and some other rare and hard to spot tissues, is becoming almost commonplace in paleontology. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that there has been a great deal of fossil material unearthed in recent years that exquisitely preserved the tissue in one way or another. This includes T. rex collagen and DNA that survived well beyond the originally hypothesized timeline of a million years. The second reason that more soft tissues have been recovered in recent years is the increased technology with which paleontologists, anatomists, and geologists (to name a few disciplines) are now regularly versed and proficient in using. In the case of Anchiornis both of those things happened. The fossils of the small dinosaur were very well preserved and the best preserved of the individuals possessed not only feathers but clearly defined melanosomes that were able to be interpreted by Li et al. in 2010. Their interpretation lead to the color scheme that is presently, and has always been, associated with Anchiornis. That color scheme includes white barring on the wings (hind and fore limbs) and a rufous crown. The crown varies between orange and a fiery red, depending on the interpretation of the artist.
Looking for the illustrator!

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