|The 160 million year old Anchiornis huxleyi with its original colouration.|
Detailed analysis of these allowed Vinther to recreate Anchiornis's colouration, with a dark grey body, white patches on the wings and a dusky red crest on its head. Since then, several other creatures have been given their original tones, particularly insects such as beetles. Now, marine reptiles have joined this small but growing list. Using the same techniques as Vinther, a team of scientists led by John Lingren from Lund University in Sweden have reconstructed the living state of a 55 million-year-old leatherback turtle, an 85 million-year-old mosasaur and a 196-190 million-year-old ichthyosaur.
|Melanosomes within a cell known as a melanocyte|
The studies were based around patches of preserved skin from the three creatures, which contained the preserved remains of melanin-containing organelles known as melanosomes, and examining the way light would have interacted with the melanin pigments. 'Our discovery enables us to make a journey through time and to revisit these ancient reptiles using their own biomolecules,' said Per Uvdal from the MAX IV Laboratory and a part of Lingren's team.
|The colouration of the marine reptiles.|
'The fossil leatherback turtle probably had a similar colour scheme and lifestyle as does Dermochelys. Similarly, mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs, which also had worldwide distributions, may have used their darkly coloured skin to heat up quickly between dives,' continued Lindgren. From this, it is likely that these creatures lived lifestyles similar to whales, diving to depths to feed and making a brief return to the surface to warm up. It also shows how marine predators have adapted to be stealthy hunters and pass undetected by their prey.
Colour is incredibly important in the natural world. Plants use green chlorophyll to capture light from the sun and reds, blues pinks and yellows to attract mammals and insects to their flowers and fruits. Frogs and amphibians use bright tones to flaunt toxic skins to their predators. Conversely cuttlefish use camouflage to blend in perfectly with their environment. Colour dictates the lives and behaviours of millions of species. Its presence in the fossil record, and effect on the prehistoric Earth, was until recently, completely unknown.