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Skin color in dinos




Shannon asks about skin color in dinos. When I give an occassional dino
hall tour for the Associate's program here at the Smithsonian this question
almost inevitably comes up. Everyone realizes that color does not fossilize -
although few realize that color markings do exist in the record, basically
known mostly for various marine invertebrates especially mollusks and
trilobites and the like. The original color isn;t there but the patterns
are, which is pretty darned neat. Anyway, I always tell the people on the
tours that I suspect the dinos acted liked most large terrestrial verts
on this matter. Some would be colored in ways not to call attention to
themselves (e.g. greens, browns, etc) because, as Monty Python pointed out,
sometimes (often) it's good not to be seen. This applies to both the eaters
and the eaten. However, other forms, especially those that would have been
in large herds and/or had significant social behavior, have pretty much
done their best to avoid hiding (although being 1 of a million duck bills
running around in a herd actually is an interesting way to not really be
seen) so I suspect bright colors and wonderful patterns and areas of inflated
skin etc. probably were all the rage. If you're built like a pachycephalosaur
with the big dome and, in some cases, bumps and/or horns, then a little
color (or a lot) would seem quite appropriate. I also think Archie probably
was not a stranger to color. So, the answer is open for development along
lots o lines. I don't know of any apparent marking patterns on the mummified
skin we know of but I suspect it might be found some time. I intuitively
never thought I'd see color markings on trilobites either but the fossil
record is amazing.

Ralph Chapman, NMNH