“DINOSAUR EXPERTS ARE POURING OVER THESE LATEST FINDS TO REVEAL SURPRISING INSIGHTS INTO THESE CREATURES’ LIVES”
2 Sinosauropteryx. Improved technology promises to reveal many more. In the meantime, dinosaur experts are poring over these latest finds to reveal some surprising new insights into these creatures’ lives.
When Vinther was invited to Drumheller to see the Borealopelta fossil in December 2016, he dropped everything. “It’s a spectacular specimen,” he says. “It was very emotional, because it’s just so lifelike – it really feels alive when you see it.”
Even more exciting were the traces of reddish pigment that Vinther found when he analysed samples of the fossil. This pigment, called phaeomelanin, belongs to a group of natural pigments known as melanin, which are responsible for the colours of the skin, feathers, scales, hair and fur of animals (and red-headed humans) today. More intriguing, however, was evidence of a pattern of colouration called countershading, which is common in the natural world today. Many modern animals have countershading – a form of camouflage where the animal’s back or upper surface is darker than the underside. In the case of Borealopelta (see illustration, overleaf), far more phaeomelanin was present in the skin tested on the back than the fossil’s lower surface. Generally, sunlight will make the upper surface of an animal lighter than the underside. By having shading that reverses this gradient, the animal appears flatter to predators, helping it to blend into the shadows.
Computer illustration of Borealopelta (main image), and photos taken of the fossil (le )