The ‘age of the dinosaurs’ was vast and varied.
When dealing with periods of hundreds of millions of years, it’s easy for time to seem a little compressed. In pop culture, especially, dinosaurs are often lumped together to create more vibrant scenes of gleaming teeth and twitching claws. But the fact of the matter is that dinosaurs have had an incredible run that’s still going on to this day.
The earliest known dinosaurs evolved about 235 million years ago during the early part of the Triassic Period. A mass extinction at the end of the period gave dinosaurs their shot at dominance, and the “terrible lizards” thrived through the Jurassic and Cretaceous. Another mass extinction 66 million years ago killed off all but the birds, which carry the dinosaurian legacy into the future.
Think about those time frames the next time you see a Tyrannosaurus rex trying to chomp an Apatosaurus. Those dinosaurs lived over 80 million years apart from each other. That’s more time than there’s been since the asteroid struck — the whole “Age of Mammals” could fit between those dinosaurs, with plenty of room to spare.
What Color Were Dinosaurs?
We know a lot about dinosaurs. But this question has stumped scientists for decades.
Asking what color dinosaurs were is like asking what color birds are. The group is huge and diverse, and if you pick a shade, you’re likely to find it somewhere. But despite the resigned belief that we’d never know what palettes dinosaurs wore, recent research has started to fill in the Mesozoic brushstrokes.
The key is something paleontologists previously mistook for bacteria. Fossil feathers and skin can preserve tiny, round and oblong organelles called melanosomes. These itty-bitty bodies carry pigment and, in modern birds, help create shades like black, gray, red — and even iridescence. By comparing melanosomes in fossil feathers with those of modern birds, we can get an idea of what colors some dinosaurs were.
The little dinosaur Anchiornis looked something like a magpie with a punk-rock crown of red feathers, for example, while the armored dinosaur Borealopelta was rust red on top and light below — counter-shading that would have helped this herbivore blend into its forested habitat. And this is about more than painting dinosaurs by the numbers. Understanding the color patterns of dinosaurs can help paleontologists investigate where dinosaurs lived and how they behaved.
Also read: What Dinosaur Has 500 teeth?