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Ancient Bats True Colors Revealed Through Fossil Pigments In Groundbreaking Study

Sep 28, 2015 06:46 PM EDT
Lesser Short-Nosed Fruit Bat
Pigments found in fossils reveled that an extinct species of bats used to be a reddish-brown color.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Researchers from the University of Bristol and Virginia Tech have taken a closer look at bat fossils containing preserved pigments and found that at least two of the species from the Eocene Epoch originally had reddish-brown fur. 

Researchers used morphological, experimental and chemical techniques to closely examine specific fossil structures known as melanosomes, which are organelles that contain melanin and are responsible for pigmentation. 

Researchers replicated the conditions under which these fossils formed millions of years ago and the analyzed the specimens using Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectroscopy (TOF-SIMS) and concluded that melanin was present in the fossils.

Melanin represents either a reddish-brown color known as phaeomelanin, or a black color known as eumelanin. These types of melanin are also chemically distinct.

"Very importantly, we see that the different melanins are found in organelles of different shapes: reddish melanosomes are shaped like little meatballs, while black melanosomes are shaped like sausages. We can see that this trend is also present in the fossils," Dr. Jakob Vinther, senior author and a molecular paleobiologist at the University of Bristol, said in a statement. "This means that the correlation of melanin color to shape is an ancient invention, which we can use to easily determine color from fossils by simply looking at the melanosome shape."

The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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