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Fossilized Skin Pigments Show Ancient Sea Monsters' Color

Researchers in Sweden have learned some sea-dwelling dinosaurs had all-black skin pigmentation.
Posted at 5:45 PM, Jan 09, 2014

Researchers in Sweden have discovered new characteristics about the mysterious and extinct dinosaurs of the deep blue sea. 

They looked at a variety of ancient aquatic animals, including the mosasaurs. 

 

"A mosasaur weighs 10 tons. It can swim at speeds up to 35 mph and is very, very deadly." (Via Discovery)  

O​oh, could you imagine taking a dip with that thing lingering in dark crevices? Anyway ... 

Researchers also studied the ichthyosaur dating from as far back as 196 million years ago and the leatherback turtle, which lived about 55 million years ago. (ViaWikimedia Commons / Heinrich Harder / Coalicion Pro CEN

They found these ancient aquatic animals had all-black pigmentation, a feature one expert told LiveScience could have helped the animals in multiple ways: "We suggest … that they used it not only as camouflage and UV protection, but also to be able to regulate their body temperature." 

But the leatherback turtles had a light underbelly, making them hard to spot, as they could blend with the depths from above and the sunlight on the surface from below — not unlike today's leatherback turtles. 

Pinpointing the coloration of extinct marine animals was uncharted territory in paleontology — well, until now. Researchers used what's called a halo from around the fossils to make the discoveries. (Via Tech Times)

Halos are fossilized skin pigments containing melanin, which is the main determinant of skin color, even in humans. Not only did the researchers discover skin color, but they also found the mosasaur had scales, which, as one scientist put in the journal Nature, where the findings were published, "has greatly improved our understanding of how these ancient lizards evolved from land dwellers to pelagic cruisers."

So what could this discovery mean for the future of paleontology? 

A researcher from California State University told National Geographic"This work is a really cool first step to both understanding the external appearance of extinct marine creatures and using that information to make inferences about their lifestyle and behavior, which, unfortunately for behavioral ecologists, do not fossilize."