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What Color Were the Dinosaurs?

Scientists' theories vary on the answer.

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Adapted from Dinosaurs: The Very Latest Information and Hands-On Activities From the Museum of the Rockies, by Liza Charlesworth and Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer. A Scholastic Professional Book.

 

While skin impressions have been found — suggesting a pebbly or scaly texture — no real dinosaur skin remains. That means paleontologists don't know for certain what color any of the dinosaurs were. They do have several theories, though. For example, many believe that dinosaur skin was probably drab shades of gray or green, allowing them to blend into their surrounding environments. This dull coloration would help them escape the detection of predators, enabling some to survive longer. Because large modern-day warm-blooded animals, such as elephants and rhinoceroses, tend to be dully colored, many scientists think that dinosaurs were, too.

But other paleontologists say the opposite is true — that dinosaurs' skin could have been shades of purple, orange, red, even yellow with pink and blue spots! Rich and varied colors, they argue, might have helped dinosaurs to recognize one another and attract mates. Because research has shown that dinosaurs'closest living relatives — birds — can see in color, it is theorized that dinosaurs could, too. Scientists in this camp believe that color may well have been as important to these ancient creatures as it is to us.

Jack Horner on Dinosaurs' Color

Jack Horner, Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, Denver, Colorado, explains, "Some male dinosaurs may have had brightly colored crests to help them attract mates, but females probably did not. This color differentiation is also found in many modern-day birds."

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  • Subjects:
    Archaeology, Dinosaurs
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