The discovery that dinosaurs could be different colors is a relatively new discovery in paleontology. Pioneered by Jakob Vinther there are more and more dinosaurs colors being discovered, some expected and some surprising. One color that has not been discovered to date in Pink. So could there be an undiscovered pink dinosaur just waiting to be dug up?
Currently only a few dinosaur colors are provable due to the scarcity of melanosomes cells but there is little traction in the idea of pink dinosaurs. Known dinosaur colors include browns, rusty red, blacks. However, dinosaur color science is young, and the idea of a pink dinosaur cannot be completely discounted.
We take a look at the chances of finding a pink dinosaur, or any brightly colored dinosaurs and the reasons why, if they are find, these colors might have evolved in the article below.
How do we know the color of dinosaurs?
Dinosaurs are green, dinosaurs are grey, and that’s about it. Or it was so for about 150 years. before serious studies were put into looking into the color of dinosaurs they were often assigned the colors of whatever animal matched them in appearance or size.
So we go the greys of elephants and rhinos, and the greens of crocodiles and lizards for over 100 years, we never saw a pink dinosaur outside of children’s Tv Shows. ( not the purple dinosaur!)
However, jacob Vinther from the University of bristol found the building blocks of color, melanosomes, in some fossilized squid ink, and he asked the question if the color indicators can be discovered in fossilized squids could they be found in dinosaurs. It turns out the answer was yes.
You can read how they discovered the color of dinosaurs in much more detail in out guide to dinosaur colors articles linked below. In this article we will use a light brush to explain just to give you a rough idea.
So now the – in a nutshell- version of how we know dinosaurs colors.
For many years it was thought that pigment would ever survive the million of years of fossilization that dinosaur bones and bodies have been subjected to, which led to an acceptance that the color of dinosaurs would never be know. However Vinthers discovery showed that not only did these cells survive, but the shape of them could help determine the color of dinosaurs. So maybe there was hope for a pink dinosaur.
So in the rare ( very rare) occasions when feathers, or skin impressions are discovered along with the bones of the dinosaurs scientists can look for these melanosomes and if they are discovered they can compare to others to see which color they indicated.
it was in this way that anchiornis huxleyi (the first dinosaur to know the color of) was discovered to be brown, black with a red head. they found these melanosomes and could work out the likely colors they would have represented. These melanosomes carry genetic material that is responsible for the coloring of animals. They found that they could use light, lasers, and microscopes to determine the color of an animal.
So were there any Pink Dinosaurs
To open this question is is probably best to ask the man who discovered the color of dinosaurs in the first place who gave the following pretty straightforward and to the point answer.
Jakob Vinther clearly thinks there was not ever a pink dinosaur, and let’s face it if anyone knows then it would be him.
Or would it.
An absence of proof does not equal proof of absence, or more simply put we simply do not have enough evidence to discount as fact that there were not any pink dinosaurs 230 to 66 million years ago despite is being unlikely.
While dinosaurs without feathers, non avian, would perhaps have been darker or less bright than their feathers cousins it is not possible to discount the possibility, only heavily suggest it is unlikely.
Vinther is correct when he suggests than bright colors are not normal for a predator who hunts by stealth or ambush, or for a herbivore who would fair better by blending in as much as possible to avoid said ambushes
but there are animals today ( not a absolute rock solid theory of course) that rely on color to dissuade attacks by being brightly colored as a warning. Reptiles like snakes and lizards all have examples of bright colors to warn would be predators, as do insects, frogs, and birds.
Birds in particular may use their bright colors to attract mates and show off their prowess and what are birds evolved from….dinosaurs!
Reasons for Bright Colored or Pink Dinosaurs
We have put a few reasons animals ( and possibly dinosaurs) may have evolved to be brighter rather than camouflaged below, bit this is very much in the realms of theory when it comes to assigning these traits to dinosaurs.
- To identify themselves to others of their species.
- To show how strong and healthy they were to females
- To warn predators that they were not an easy meal
- Color is used widely throughout the Animal Kingdom
- More and more dinosaurs are being discovered to have melanin coloring though not pink it has to be said.
- A result of diet like a flamingo, was there a shrimp or algae eating dinosaur out there somewhere! (probably not)
These are all reasons some animals have evolved to be brightly colored and we already readily accept that the crested of animals like triceratops, the horns of Carnotaurus, even the tail feathers of earlier ceratopsians were a means to display, so is it such a leap to suggest color also played a role.
Well for the large unfeathered dinosaurs it might be, however for the smaller feathered dromaeosaurs ( raptors) and avian type dinosaurs like microraptor ( which was black) and Sinosauropteryx was stripped with a rusty orange color. ( not to far from red or anchiornis and the rusty orange of Sinosauropteryx to a Pink dinosaur is it?)
Were there Brightly colored dinosaurs?
Although no evidence of pink dinosaurs exists at the moment , , with the discovery of a much more brightly colored Caihong juji or (rainbow crest dragon) Which also had melanosomes similar to iridescent ones found in hummingbirds. This is much brighter than any dinosaur that lived in more open less sheltered areas
Vinther said in his quote that there was unlikely to be a pink or purple dinosaur that walked the ground, well what about the arboreal ( tree dwelling forest dinosaurs) dinosaurs
the reason for this difference is thought to be in forests and trees there is more cover and it is easier to hide, this would apply to both predators and their prey. this allows color to be more of a factor and these dinosaurs, with the benefit of living in cover, may have evolved to use their color for attraction.
With dinosaurs in all likelihood having excellent vision being a rainbow crested dinosaur on the open plains would not be such an advantage. This is why if ever a pink dinosaur is discovered it is very likely going to be a feathered forest dweller rather than a 20,000 lbs ankylosaurus!
Is There A Pink Dinosaur Today?
Although it is looking increasingly unlikely there were any pink dinosaur species walking about during the triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous periods there is one, of a sort, standing on earth today.
Dinah is a model of a dinosaur, a sauropod, that is located off Main street in Vernal, Utah in the USA. It is a huge 4200 lb model ( 1900 kg) that was used to advertise a motel. it was built in 1958 and since the motel went out of business it now advertises that Utah is smack in the middle of fossils bed that have provided some of the richest finds of dinosaur fossils in the world.
It appears to be about 30 feet tall, and is both now and with current knowledge the closest we will get to a Punk dinosaur both in the age of the dinosaurs and up till today. Unless you go to Florida….
There is another model of a dinosaur ( sauropod again!,) this one is about 22 feet high and about 58 feet long, and was first seen in 1962. it was built to promote a family run dinosaur museum at the time called the Dinosaur Wildlife/Foxbower Wildlife Museum although the museum closed in 1998,
The dinosaur is still there and even got a face lift in 2015. it is affectionately known as the Pepto-Bismol dinosaur due to its pink color and can be found in the town of Spring Hill Florida if you are in the area!
So at the moment we know of no dinosaurs that were pink. We know of black, stripped, red (ish) brown, rusty orange and even ones with a rainbow crest (or named as such as least) which means that discoveries of more brightly colored dinosaurs are starting to filter through.
It is possible that more and more brightly colored dinosaurs will be discovered as this new way of looking at fossils is pursued. Just don’t hold your breath for announcements of a pink Tyrannosaurs or pink triceratops any time soon but keep your eyes in the trees.
Hi, I am Roy Ford a General Studies and English Teacher who has taught all over the world. What started as a fossil collection became a great way to teach, motivate and inspire students of all ages and all over the world about dinosaurs and from that and children’s love of dinosaurs came the site dinosaur facts for kids, a resource for all ages.