Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fossil pigments reveal the colors of ancient sea monsters

09.01.2014
Unique finds of original pigment in fossilised skin from three multi-million-year old marine reptiles attract considerable attention from the scientific community.

The pigment reveals that these animals were, at least partially, dark-coloured in life, which is likely to have contributed to more efficient thermoregulation, as well as providing means for camouflage and UV protection. Researchers at Lund University are among the scientists that made the spectacular discovery.


Preserved pigment in fossilized skin from a leatherback turtle, a mosasaur and an ichthyosaur suggests that these animals were, at least partially, dark-colored in life -- an example of convergent evolution. Note that the leatherback turtle and mosasaur have a dark back and light belly (a color scheme also known as countershading), whereas the ichthyosaur, similar to the modern deep-diving sperm whale, is uniformly dark-colored.

Credit: Illustration by Stefan Sølberg

During the Age of the dinosaurs, huge reptiles, such as mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs, ruled the seas. Previously, scientists could only guess what colours these spectacular animals had; however, pigment preserved in fossilised skin has now been analysed at SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden and MAX IV Laboratory, Lund University, Sweden. The unique soft tissue remains were obtained from a 55 million-year-old leatherback turtle, an 85 million-year-old mosasaur and a 196 million-year-old ichthyosaur. This is the first time that the colour scheme of any extinct marine animal has been revealed.

"This is fantastic! When I started studying at Lund University in 1993, the film Jurassic Park had just been released, and that was one of the main reasons why I got interested in biology and palaeontology. Then, 20 years ago, it was unthinkable that we would ever find biological remains from animals that have been extinct for many millions of years, but now we are there and I am proud to be a part of it", said Johan Lindgren about the discovery of the ancient pigment molecules.

Johan Lindgren is a scientist at Lund University in Sweden, and he is the leader of the international research team that has studied the fossils. Together with colleagues from Denmark, England and the USA, he now presents the results of their study in the scientific journal Nature. The most sensational aspect of the investigation is that it can now be established that these ancient marine reptiles were, at least partially, dark-coloured in life, something that probably contributed to more efficient thermoregulation, as well as providing means for camouflage and protection against harmful UV radiation.

The analysed fossils are composed of skeletal remains, in addition to dark skin patches containing masses of micrometre-sized, oblate bodies. These microbodies were previously interpreted to be the fossilised remains of those bacteria that once contributed to the decomposition and degradation of the carcasses. However, by studying the chemical content of the soft tissues, Lindgren and his colleagues are now able to show that they are in fact remnants of the animals' own colours, and that the micrometre-sized bodies are fossilised melanosomes, or pigment-containing cellular organelles.

"Our results really are amazing. The pigment melanin is almost unbelievably stable. Our discovery enables us to make a journey through time and to revisit these ancient reptiles using their own biomolecules. Now, we can finally use sophisticated molecular and imaging techniques to learn what these animals looked like and how they lived", said Per Uvdal, one of the co-authors of the study, and who works at the MAX IV Laboratory.

Mosasaurs (98 million years ago) are giant marine lizards that could reach 15 metres in body length, whereas ichthyosaurs (250 million years ago) could become even larger. Both ichthyosaurs and mosasaurs died out during the Cretaceous Period, but leatherback turtles are still around today. A conspicuous feature of the living leatherback turtle, Dermochelys, is that it has an almost entirely black back, which probably contributes to its worldwide distribution. The ability of leatherback turtles to survive in cold climates has mainly been attributed to their huge size, but it has also been shown that these animals bask at the sea surface during daylight hours. The black colour enables them to heat up faster and to reach higher body temperatures than had they instead been lightly coloured.

"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", said Johan Lindgren.

If their interpretations are correct, then at least some ichthyosaurs were uniformly dark-coloured in life, unlike most living marine animals. However, the modern deep-diving sperm whale has a similar colour scheme, perhaps as camouflage in a world without light, or as UV protection, given that these animals spend extended periods of time at or near the sea surface in between dives. The ichthyosaurs are also believed to have been deep-divers, and if their colours were similar to those of the living sperm whale, then this would also suggest a similar lifestyle, according to Lindgren.

Johan Lindgren | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.lu.se

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Protein Shake-Up
27.03.2015 | Oak Ridge National Laboratory

nachricht How did the chicken cross the sea?
27.03.2015 | Michigan State University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Experiment Provides the Best Look Yet at 'Warm Dense Matter' at Cores of Giant Planets

In an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as...

Im Focus: Energy-autonomous and wireless monitoring protects marine gearboxes

The IPH presents a solution at HANNOVER MESSE 2015 to make ship traffic more reliable while decreasing the maintenance costs at the same time. In cooperation with project partners, the research institute from Hannover, Germany, has developed a sensor system which continuously monitors the condition of the marine gearbox, thus preventing breakdowns. Special feature: the monitoring system works wirelessly and energy-autonomously. The required electrical power is generated where it is needed – directly at the sensor.

As well as cars need to be certified regularly (in Germany by the TÜV – Technical Inspection Association), ships need to be inspected – if the powertrain stops...

Im Focus: 3-D satellite, GPS earthquake maps isolate impacts in real time

Method produced by UI researcher could improve reaction time to deadly, expensive quakes

When an earthquake hits, the faster first responders can get to an impacted area, the more likely infrastructure--and lives--can be saved.

Im Focus: Atlantic Ocean overturning found to slow down already today

The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe. 

Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been...

Im Focus: Robot inspects concrete garage floors and bridge roadways for damage

Because they are regularly subjected to heavy vehicle traffic, emissions, moisture and salt, above- and underground parking garages, as well as bridges, frequently experience large areas of corrosion. Most inspection systems to date have only been capable of inspecting smaller surface areas.

From April 13 to April 17 at the Hannover Messe (hall 2, exhibit booth C16), engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing IZFP will be...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Conference On Regenerative Medicine 2015: Registration And Abstract Submission Now Open

25.03.2015 | Event News

University presidents from all over the world meet in Hamburg

19.03.2015 | Event News

10. CeBiTec Symposium zum Big Data-Problem

17.03.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Two Most Destructive Termite Species Forming Superswarms in South Florida

27.03.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

ORNL-Led Team Demonstrates Desalination with Nanoporous Graphene Membrane

27.03.2015 | Materials Sciences

Coorong Fish Hedge Their Bets for Survival

27.03.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>