One of the many dinosaur books I had as a kid was a coloring book that came with a sing-along cassette. The only song from that tape that I still remember was about dinosaur colors. “Colors of the rainbow, any will do/Dinosaur colors are up to you,” went the refrain.
That song always struck me as a real downer. Being able to make your dinosaurs whatever color you wanted was little consolation to those of us who would’ve given our right arms to know what color they really were.
Well, we don’t have to wonder anymore, at least not when it comes to some dinosaurs. One of the most exciting paleontological breakthroughs of the last decade was the discovery of melanosomes in feathered dinosaur specimens. Examination of these microscopic structures allowed scientists to give us a much more precise picture of what some types of dinos looked like. When news of this broke, I felt like the earth had shifted. For the first time, we were dealing with something other than educated guesswork when it came to dinosaur coloration.
The only thing more exciting would be seeing an actual dinosaur in the flesh with its integument and coloration still intact. And, ladies and gents, that’s exactly what just happened. From National Geographic:
The tail of a 99-million-year-old dinosaur, including bones, soft tissue, and even feathers, has been found preserved in amber, according to a report published today in the journal Current Biology.
While individual dinosaur-era feathers have been found in amber, and evidence for feathered dinosaurs is captured in fossil impressions, this is the first time that scientists are able to clearly associate well-preserved feathers with a dinosaur, and in turn gain a better understanding of the evolution and structure of dinosaur feathers.…
Inside the lump of resin is a 1.4-inch appendage covered in delicate feathers, described as chestnut brown with a pale or white underside.
CT scans and microscopic analysis of the sample revealed eight vertebrae from the middle or end of a long, thin tail that may have been originally made up of more than 25 vertebrae.
Here it is, the tail of an honest-to-goodness dinosaur, still in the flesh after nearly a million centuries. This is a wonderful time to be alive!