Color of two ancient species of bat has been determined using a unique technique in a new recent study. Scientists studied microscopic spherical and oblong-shaped structures in the fossils and found that the bats were reddish-brown in color.
In the new study, researchers from Virginia Tech and University of Texas show that the organic micro-bodies in the skin, hair, feathers and eyes of exceptionally preserved fossils contain the remnants of melanin.
The researchers replicated the conditions under which the fossils formed using high pressure, high temperature autoclave experiments. They showed that the fossils contain fossilized melanin by using Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectroscopy (TOF-SIMS), which had changed in chemical composition over time.
Researcher Jakob Vinther said this was a great leap forward in their understanding of how fossils were preserved, adding that they now knew how melanin was preserved and they had the methods to confidently detect it. Vinther said they saw that the different melanin's were found in organelles of different shapes: reddish melanosomes are shaped like little meatballs, while black melanosomes are shaped like sausages.
He further said that this meant that the correlation of melanin color to shape was an ancient invention, which they could use to easily determine color from fossils by simply looking at the melanosome shape. The team was able to determine that the two species of 50-million-year-old bat were both originally a reddish brown color. The study is published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences