Primitive Sea Monster’s True Color Revealed By Fossil Pigments

Scientists have unveiled the skin color of three, ancient marine reptiles, suggesting that the pigment that is preserved in fossilized skin analysed at SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden and MAX IV Laboratory, Lund University, Sweden, proves that these animals were, not completely but somewhat, dark-coloured.

The new findings “are marvelous, so cool,” says Anne Schulp, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, who was not the part of the research. “This is paleontology well beyond the bones, and the team’s arguments make perfect sense.”


“This is great! When I commenced finding out at Lund College in 1993, the film Jurassic Park had just been produced, and that was just one of the most important reasons why I obtained fascinated in biology and palaeontology. Then, twenty years ago, it was unthinkable that we would at any time uncover biological stays from animals that have been extinct for lots of thousands and thousands of years, but now we are there and I am very pleased to be an aspect of it,” said Johan Lindgren, scientist at Lund University in Sweden, and leader of the international research team that has studied the fossils.

Scientists have now evolved a new technique to map the chemical traces of soft tissues in the rocks surrounding fossils. Previously soft tissues were not mostly preserved in the record. The chemical traces aid in visualizing the residual pigments. Previously the attention was given on fossil birds and preserved remains of their feathers, said Lindgren. Now, he and his colleagues are utilizing the same techniques to analyze the fossils of ancient marine reptiles.

The three sets of fossils are presently in museums in Denmark, England, and Texas. The fossils are made up of skeletal remains, along with dark skin patches that have masses of micrometre-sized, oblate bodies.  The fossils refers to creatures from different eras, a leatherback turtle that lived about 55 million years ago, a giant marine lizard mosasaur a 98-66 million years old creature, and an ichthyosaur that used to swam the seas around 190 million and 196 million years ago. All three were air-breathers, thus they can be said to have spent enough time at the surface or in the shallow, well-lit portions of the seas.

At a close observation with a scanning electron microscope dense layers of tiny, rugby ball–shaped structures ranging between 0.5 and 0.8 micrometers long can be seen clearly. These tiny bits resemble the pigment-bearing structures (called melanosomes) in shape and size found in the skin and scales of modern-day lizards and in the feathers of birds. Their  shape suggests the pigments were black; melanosomes that lend a red or yellow color are typically spherical, according to Lindgren.

The leatherback turtle and the mosasaur, had pigments on the upper surfaces of their bodies. Studies suggest that this dark-above-and-light-below color scheme, known as countershading, helps provide camouflage and UV protection. The ichthyosaur was found to have dark pigments all over its body.

The team’s research “is very interesting, and it’s not trivial,” says Mike Benton, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. “Several years ago, people would have said we’d never be able to tell what colors ancient creatures were,” he notes. “But here we are.”


  • Patrick John Blackburn

    How can this be? When the Earth is only 6000 years old?

    • xzx

      Mon, puhleeze keep up! It’s 10000!

    • David Kerns

      You are probably the dumbest person on the earth

      • Patrick John Blackburn

        No….that be you. Either because you don’t understand simple sarcasm based on a lot of idiotic beliefs out there: or because you believe yourself the Earth is 6000 years old and you resent my sarcasm.

        • Rebecah Kirkendoll

          Why the need to belittle and cut down the beliefs of others? Live and let live. My beliefs don’t hurt you, yours don’t hurt me. :)

          The Internet has opened up an avenue for people to be nasty, sarcastic and rude without fear of repercussions. Seems like a way to vent their venom and frustration. I can only hope you would be nicer in person, Mr. Blackburn. :)

          • Hardy Stevenson

            Why abuse 3 year olds by telling them theyll be tortured for eternity if they dont believe your ludicrous beliefs?

          • Patrick John Blackburn

            And you can only hope too that when you close your eyes that last time….you’ll open them again and there will be a Magic Sky Guy with a long white beard holding your gold key to your mansion in the sky….
            Sarcasm again. Actually, I believe I am “nice” in person. In person and with people I know I am generally supportive of whatever they need to get them through the day…including religion. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong about being totally truthful though in these internet situations and speak nothing but…well, the truth. Remember….all I started out with was a simple observation “How can…when only 6000 years old?” It’s this idiot with the ridiculous backwoods name who started us down the path of outright nastiness.

        • Hardy Stevenson

          Obviously this animal was in the water at the garden of Eden. And my mother was a squirrel and dad a goldfish.

        • paddy jake whiteburn

          patty, yeah, you are a retard indeed. your attempt at sarcasm just shows you suck at more than just sucking. if making a sarcastic joke, at least make the effort and make an informed joke. yours wasn’t even funny, even remotely connected to anything mentioned in the article. truly, little britainer.

    • Rebecah Kirkendoll

      Not all who believe in creation believe that. I believe we have a Creator, but I also know that Earth is billions of years old. Science and the bible harmonize. The 7 literal 24 hr day creationists do not recognize that a ‘day’ doesn’t have to be 24 hrs, such as when I say ‘back in my grandparent’s day’. It’s a segment of time, not a literal day.

  • Rebecah Kirkendoll

    I wish there was a way to limit comments on posts about science to science. This article is about fossil finds, but people always have to throw either religion, their hatred of or disdain for religion and religious people, or politics into the mix. Having an intelligent, on topic discussion seldom happens. Sad. Few have decent communication skills these days. Here we have what are apparently grown men showing their weiners in a spate of one-upmanship. Lovely.

    • Hardy Stevenson

      Welcome to America.

      • Patty Brown

        It’s the future, Idiocracy for the masses and Kleptocracy for the 1% – now go back to being a good consumer, willya? 😉

    • paddy jake whiteburn


  • sam

    wow beautiful…..