Skip to main content

3rd October 2016

Dinosaur feathers were the same colour as human hair

A new study led by the University of Manchester has found that dinosaur feathers came in a variety of colours including black, brown, and ginger
Categories: ,

Anyone who paid attention to Jurassic Park’s world-renowned paleontologist Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) knows that dinosaurs had feathers, not scales. However, a big question for researchers has always been what colour were they? New research led by the University of Manchester has shown that dinosaurs’ feathers were similar in colour to some human hair– although brown and black feathers were more common than red.

The investigation was looking at the chemical composition of melanin (a general name for a group of naturally occurring pigments). By mapping the metal distribution in feathers from various birds with synchrotron X-ray techniques, the group found that eumelanin and pheomelanin (the variants responsible for black/brown and red/yellow hair colouring respectively) interact differently with calcium, copper, sulphur, and zinc.

The group, led by the University of Manchester’s Professor Roy Wogelius, had previously used similar methods to look at metal distribution within fossils. Although they concluded that the presence of copper in these fossils was evidence of eumelanin, they couldn’t confidently distinguish between the two types of melanin. In their new work they analysed four different types of feathers with very distinct colour patterns, in order to discern a difference between eumelanin and pheomelanin.

By studying how the different metals build up in feathers, the team has been able to build up a general picture of how melanin behaves. The work has provided the basis for an “evidence-based colour palette” which, combined with elemental maps of fossils, will allow researchers to show how the dinosaurs might have looked.

Importantly, the X-ray techniques used were non-destructive meaning paleontologists won’t need to risk the integrity of their collections just to find out what they looked like.

The original paper was published and can be found in Nature.

More Coverage

University of Manchester’s Reclaim the Night takes over city centre

The new route saw the march take over the city centre, and saw a wider diversity of speakers than previous events

LeadMCR 2024/25 applications now open

LeadMCR applications have opened, with eight Exec roles available for next academic year, focused on the student experience at University and across the city

We’re all in this together: Scottish wildcats are merging with domestic cats

The Scottish wildcat population has been severely weakened by genetic mixing with domestic cats. Concerted conservation efforts will be needed to restore them to their former glory

Financial boost for northern creative industries under government’s Create Growth programme

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer led the WeCreate Conference on November 13, launching the ‘Create Growth’ programme to support technological and financial development of the creative sector