Punk dinosaur had ginger Mohican

Posted by Emma Woollacott

We at TG Daily always had a sneaking suspicion that the makers of Barney had got it a bit wrong. And now it turns out that dinosaurs weren't purple at all - but ginger!

Well, one was, anyway.

The discovery marks the first time that pigments have been found in fossil dinosaurs, and may prove once and for all that dinosaurs' hairlike filaments — sometimes called dino fuzz — are related to bird feathers.

The study team, led by Fucheng Zhang of China's Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology, identified fossilized melanosomes — pigment-bearing organelles — in the feathers and filament-like structures of fossil dinosaurs from northeastern China using a scanning electron microscope.

"I think the researchers really are looking at the fossilized remnants of melanosomes," said said Hans Dieter-Sues, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the research.

The two most common types of melanin found in modern birds are eumelanin, associated with black and grey feathers, and phaeomelanin, found in reddish brown to yellow feathers.

And dark areas in Sinosauropteryx's tail were "absolutely packed with phaeomelanosomes," said co-author Mike Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England — persuading the team  that the dinosaur's tail was striped with "chestnut to rufous tones."

And it had a rather snazzy hairstyle - a 'Mohican' of feathers running along its head and back.

There is, of course, room for doubt, as a lot of modern birds get their colouring not just from melanosomes, but from the food they eat. So Hollywood can still retain a little artistic license.