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Researchers Determine Skin Color of 10 Million-Year-Old Snake

March 31, 2016



Researchers claim that they have determined the skin color of a 10 million-year-old snake that was discovered in the early 1900s by using a scanning electron microscope, coloring for the first time what has always been black and white when it comes to fossils. 

artist rendition of the color of a snake that lived 10 million years ago

j. robbins

Artist rendition of the color of a snake that lived 10 million years ago.
 

The snake’s back was green, brown and black in coloration while its belly was  a lighter color, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology

The researchers were able to create the coloration of the snake, claiming the snake was fossilized in such a way that its pigment cells, including the shape and size of these cells were preserved in striking detail, according to a report in the journal Science

Maria McNamara, lead author of the study and a paleontologist at University College Cork in the United Kingdom found what were described as nanometer-scale objects from the back, belly and side of the fossil skin that they claim are the right shape, size and location of the three pigment cells of modern snakes. These pigment cells each produce a range of colors: browns and blacks; yellows, oranges, and reds; and the third cell can produce a range of different colors. 

They then compiled data of modern snake colors in the Colubridae family of snakes, the same family as the 10 million-year-old specimen to determine the combination of pigment cells produce the color variations. They then matched the fossil snake’s color samples with that of the modern snakes to determine what color the snake may have been 10 million years ago.

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