Here at the Children’s Museum, we’ve always got dinosaurs on the brain! If you’ve visited recently, you may have noticed some changes in our Dinosaur Garden. Our curator and interns have spruced up the dinosaurs outside, as well as adding our model Parasaurolophus (“Jennifer”) who used to live inside the museum. The well-loved dinosaurs have been cleaned, repaired, and painted.
For a long time, paleontologists didn’t know what color dinosaurs really were. Teeth, bones, and claws- the hard parts of the body- are the most common fossils that we find, and they don’t tell us what color the dinosaur was. Sometimes scientists find fossil impressions of skin and scales but, again, no color is preserved. However, in 2010, scientists at the University of Bristol made an exciting discovery. They knew that a substance called melanin is what gives modern day birds (and humans!) their color. Melanin is stored in little capsules with each color having its own particular shape. Using a very powerful microscope, these scientists were able to see melanin in fossilized Sinosauropteryx feathers! For the first time, we could say that the Sinosauropteryx had an orange and white striped tail. However, this method only works on more recent dinosaurs- we still don’t know what color our friend the T. Rex was!
In other dinosaur news, did you know that here in California we just got an official state dinosaur? Augustynolophus morrisi is a hadrosaur, a type of herbivorous dinosaur known for its duck-shaped mouth. Specimens were found near Fresno in the late 1930s and were thought to roam California about 66 million years ago. Only two specimens have ever been found, both right here in what is now California. A. morrisi was about 25 feet long and weighed about 3 tons.
There’s always more to learn about dinosaurs, including the ones that lived in our own backyards. Have your future paleontologist try our Dinosaur Scavenger Hunt the next time you visit the museum!
Sinosauropteryx photo credit to Jim Robbins via NPR.org/ A.morrisi photo is from Stephanie Abromowicz/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles)