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Earth Science

The True Color of Ancient Sea Creatures 44

sciencehabit writes "Looking a bit like a dolphin, but with a long slim snout filled with pointy teeth, one species of ichthyosaur was practically invisible in the murky depths of Jurassic seas, thanks to dark pigmentation that covered its entire body. That's one conclusion of a new study that provides an unprecedented peek at the coloration of sea creatures alive during or soon after the dinosaur era. The approach involves bombarding fossils with charged particles and then analyzing the particles that are knocked from the surface, which reveals remnants of ancient pigments. Dark pigmentation may have helped ichthyosaurs and other predators camouflage themselves in the murky depths while they hunted prey."
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The True Color of Ancient Sea Creatures

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  • Spoiler: It's gray.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ancient sea creatures had dark blue or black color

    • Which seems to be what a good majority of today's sea creatures have that fill analogous environmental niches. Although it would be kind of funny to see Megalodon or Mosasaurus decked out in rainbow stripes like a gay pride flag.

  • if they found that the sea creatures were all neon-pink or neon-yellow and there was no explanation for it,.. ;)

  • Dark skin pigment is favored in natural selection where it offers a camouflaged appearance in dark seas.

    Scientists everywhere are astonished.

    This will likely be evidence enough to countermand deeply convicted religious objectors to evolution.

    • by Henriok ( 6762 )

      This will likely be evidence enough to countermand deeply convicted religious objectors to evolution.

      Hardly. God just created a suitable skin color for these sinner sea animals before he killed them all in the great flood.

      • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:00AM (#45906037) Homepage

        I'm sure a Creationist would have an answer for this, but how exactly does a flood kill sea animals? More specifically, how does it kill some sea animals but not others? Or did Noah also load up his ark with giant fishbowls full of every sea animal as well so that the horrible sea-animal killing flood didn't kill off the dolphins? I can see it now. Noah enters the Whale Room and climbs a very big ladder to be able to sprinkle dried plankton flakes into the whale tank. (Diorama of this scene coming soon to a Creationist museum near you!)

        • Re:Just wow. (Score:4, Informative)

          by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:08AM (#45906071)

          If you flood the oceans with enough rain that salinity rapidly changes, it will kill the entire ecosystem pretty quickly - just ask anyone who saw Finding Nemo and tried keeping a clownfish in a freshwater tank. Floods also tend to kick up sediments, throw chemicals in the water and lots of other fun stuff that will end up killing many creatures - including vital parts of the food chain.

          As for killing some animals but not others, it's a long shot but possible depending on the adaptability of the creatures. If they can find a new food source and the changes in salinity/chemicals/sediments/etc don't kill them, then they'll probably thrive. Although the dried plankton flakes theory isn't too bad either.

        • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

          First off, to quote the esteemed Mr. Leghorn, "it's a joke, son." To quote your blow drier, "woosh".

          The entire concept is strawman-like. The Bible says that it was mankind that neded to perish, because fallen angels mated with human women and the offspring needed to be destroyed (Genesis chapter six) []. Note this quote: "And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have ma

          • So it seems he was OK with sea creatures.

            Just papering over the cracks, really. Turn your back for an eon or two and the buggers grow legs and go stomping all over the dry bits like they own the sodding place and you're back where you started from.

    • If they can deny radiocarbon dating by "debunking" carbon dating of fossils hundreds of millions of years old (jfyi, carbon dating is only used up to 60k years ago, so their argument is irrelevant), then I am quite certain they will find a way to wave away the instruments used or godditit the color patterns.

      To the rest of Christianity, it is quite obvious (and has been for decades), that God is an evolutionist.
    • Dark skin pigment is favored in natural selection where it offers a camouflaged appearance in dark seas.

      Scientists everywhere are astonished.

      Astonishing? Perhaps not.
      It's one thing to make an educated guess, it's quite another to test the hunch, and an animal of a different color to gather evidence.

      • and an animal of a different color to gather evidence

        I see what you did there. Or rather I would if it wasn't the same colour as the background.

    • Re:Just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @11:44AM (#45906821)

      When scientists test obvious assumptions, you get people whining about how we should've known that anyway. When scientists don't test obvious assumptions, you get people whining about how we can't possibly know for sure.

      You know what? If you're so good at figuring out what scientists should do, you do it, and I'll go use my advanced degree to play the markets.

      It's all I can do not to stab someone in the eye with a pen when I see them reading those stories in front of me on the bus most mornings.

    • Consider this situation:
      Kid: What color was the ichthyosaur?
      Parent: "We don't know, but it was probably dark-colored because it lived deep in the ocean. However, it may have been brightly colored to attract a mate, may have glowed in the dark to attract prey, or may have had tiger-like patterning to hide in native vegetation. We may never know."
      Scientist: "We have found out! It was dark grey. You should cheer because we have answered a fundamental question about the ichthyosaur. We can use this meth

  • In order to know what color corresponds to what reading from their instrument, they'd have to take objects of known color, fossilize them, and then scan them. Obviously they haven't done this, so how do they know?

    • They don't figure it out by blind comparison but analytically. The instrument in question gives you information on the chemical composition of the pigment, which in this case indicates it's a melanin derivative. Melanin derivatives are dark brown or black in colour. This tallies with the fact that the colour organelles are the same shape as modern melanin-containing ones as opposed to carotenoid-containing ones, and the types of organelles are so evolutionarily ancient that they've probably been that shape

    • by cusco ( 717999 )

      Pigments break down in predictable ways. They probably aren't actually detecting melanin, but the breakdown products of melanin.

  • Why didn't god make them rainbow colored?
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @12:57PM (#45907557)

    ... fish will evolve to look like Budweiser cans.

  • Dark coloring makes perfect sense. Think about it. If you created a prehistoric sea beast that was half shark/half alligator I bet you would paint them black too. It just looks more awesomer! Now, if they could only find a test to see if any of them had frickin lazer beams strapped to their heads...

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972