I was going to post on this, but Matthew Cobb beat me to it. (If you’re not looking in at his online Z-letter, you’re missing some good biology.) In today’s Nature is a nice article by a group of scientists from China, Ireland, and the UK, showing that color-bearing organelles (“melanosomes”) can be preserved in some fossils, giving us a clue to the color of ancient animals in life. In this way they found out that the “feathered dinosaur” Sinosauropteryx had reddish-brown stripes on the tail!
They also found similar melanosomes in fossils of early birds. Because melanosomes were previously known from living birds but not from dinosaurs or ancient birds, this gives additional evidence (as if we needed any!) that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs. See Matthew’s post (and the Nature article, if you have access) for more.
Fig. 1. Sinosauropteryx, replete with colored feathers. Illustration by James Robins (from report on National Geographic website).
F. Zhang, S. L. Kearns, P. J. Orr, M. J. Benton, Z. Zhou, D. Johnson, X. Xu and X. Wang. 2010. Fossilized melanosomes and the colour of Creteaceous dinosaurs and birds. Nature online, 27 January.