Most birds are not as colorful as parrots or peacocks. But if you look beyond the feathers, it’s not hard to find the vibrant colors in birds: think of the pink feet of pigeons, the red crests of roosters, and the yellow pouches of pelicans.

It’s possible that extinct dinosaurs had similar parts of their bodies with similar colors, and that they showed colors to attract mates, just as modern-day birds do, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.

“There are a number of pigments in living birds today,” says Sarah Davis, a doctoral candidate in the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences who led the study. “These pigments can be very colorful around their beaks, legs and eyes. We can expect extinct dinosaurs to display the same colors.”

The research was published in Evolution last week .

Vivid Colors2

The orange areas represent the skin, the yellow areas the non-hair keratin tissue, and the pink areas the carotenoid colors that can be exhibited in the feathers. Scheme: Sarah Davis

This inference on possible dinosaur color schemes comes from extensive evidence of skin and tissue color in the common ancestor of living birds and extinct dinosaurs. This ancient dinosaur is an archaosaur that lived in the early Triassic period. Analyzing whether vibrant body colors were present in living relatives of dinosaurs (including turtles, crocodiles, and more than 4,000 bird species), the researchers concluded that there was a 50% chance of vivid colors present in the soft tissues of the body of the common ancestor.

These vibrant colors examined in the study often come from carotenoids. Carotenoids are a class of colors that birds get from their food, consisting of red, orange, and yellow. Carotenoids do not fossilize as well as brown and black pigments. This means that the colors of living animals must be studied for clues to the color expressions of their extinct ancestors.

The researchers reconstructed phylogenetic traits using data from birds and other animals. Phylogenetics is a scientific method used to study the evolutionary histories of species. This 50% estimate of vibrant colors applies equally to the skin, mouth area, and scales of the ancient archosaurus. In contrast, Davis says the probability of claws and feathers being vibrantly colored in the study was 0%, consistent with other research.

The study also looked at the link between a diet rich in carotenoids and color. Davis found that birds that consume higher carotenoids (a diet rich in plants and invertebrates) may be more colorful than meat-eaters. Moreover; He discovered that plant-eating birds have vibrant colors in more parts of their bodies than meat-eaters or omnivores.

“The first dinosaurs were the size of ponies and preyed on large, vertebrate creatures,” says co-author Julia Clarke, a professor in the School of Geosciences. “Different groups have shifted to plant-dominated or mixed diets. This transition must have led to changes in the coloration of non-hair tissues and skin.”

In addition to coloring the past, the research also puts living birds into new perspective. Davis says the bird groups studied in the study are dim; especially when compared to songbirds. Songbirds were not included in the study, as they are the most distant relatives of their ancestors who had nothing to do with birds.

But apart from their feathers, it turned out that the birds were quite colorful. About 54% of the 4,022 bird species examined in the study were found to have vibrant colors. 86% of the species in this group displayed vivid color only in non-hairy tissues.

Mary Caswell Stoddard, an assistant professor at Princeton University, says the research provides important insights into bird colors that are often overlooked.

“When it comes to birds, there is much more to them than feathers; Consider the vibrant orange-yellow beak of a giant toucan. But the hairs usually get the most attention,” he says. “This study shows that carotenoid-based coloration is not just in feathers; It also reveals the evolutionary history of birds and their relatives on the skin and mouthparts.”

The study was financially supported by the US National Science Foundation and the Jackson College of Geosciences.

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