Were Dinosaurs Colorful?

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While still a mystery, it is likely dinosaurs were very colorful, especially the males. (Image credit: AMNH/J. Brougham)

Dinosaurs had bumpy skin, similar to the skin of an alligator or a flightless emu bird. But their skin color remains a mystery to paleontologists today.

“When it comes to color, all we can say is that they were most likely as colorful as birds because birds are their descendants,” said Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner. “Visual display is very important to animals that are active in daylight. Most reptiles, including almost all the birds, are diurnal and therefore use color for display and camouflage.”

In contrast, mammals initially evolved as nocturnal animals and are therefore mostly color-blind. Most mammals, even today, communicate by sniffing one another, said Horner, rather than looking at colorful flashy signs.

Dinosaurs were most likely very colorful, and like birds, the males were probably more colorful than the females,” Horner told LiveScience.

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They roamed Earth millions of years ago, have spurred blockbuster movies and fascinated the studied paleontologist and the curious toddler. Yes, dinosaurs.

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Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science, TODAY.com, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.