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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Feathers and Colors Preserved for 130 Million Years

This stunning bird fossil was found in China in 2008. The species has been dubbed Eoconfuciusornis, which means “early Confucius bird.” At 130 million years old, it is the oldest bird we know of except for the proto-bird Archaeopteryx. All that is pretty amazing, even if you didn't know that its feathers were fossilized, too! But what color were those feathers when the bird was alive? To find out, scientists used a technique to analyze microscopic proteins that had never been used on fossils before.
Scientists studied Eoconfuciusornis beta-keratin buried deep within the animal’s fossilized feathers. They probed the keratin structures to find small, dark grains called melanosomes. These are the little specks within animal cells that give skin and other tissues its color. Although melanosomes had been discovered in fossilized creatures before, it was previously too difficult to tell if the dark granules belonged to the animal itself or ancient microorganisms preserved alongside it.
The work was pretty involved, but might open the door for finding out what color other ancient creatures were -even dinosaurs. Read about Eoconfuciusornis and its colored feathers at The Washington Post. -via reddit, where there's a discussion on how the bird became such a great fossil.   

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