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Were there any black dinosaurs?

Dinosaurs were a diverse group of ancient reptiles that lived during the Mesozoic Era, from around 245 to 66 million years ago. They came in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colors. But were any dinosaurs black?

The Evidence for Black Dinosaurs

While we can’t know exactly what color dinosaur skin and feathers were, paleontologists have some clues that suggest that at least some dinosaurs may have been black or very dark-colored:

  • Melanosomes – These pigment cells in skin and feathers determine color. Melanosomes containing a lot of the pigment melanin would produce black, gray or brown colors.
  • Fossilized skin impressions – Skin impressions from some dinosaurs show patterns consistent with a dark coloration.
  • Analogous modern animals – Looking at the colors of modern reptiles, birds and other dinosaurs’ closest living relatives gives clues to possible dinosaur colors.

Let’s look at the evidence in more detail:


Melanosomes are organelles (tiny cell structures) that contain the pigment melanin. The shape and density of melanosomes affects the color of an animal’s skin, feathers, scales or fur. By studying the melanosomes in well-preserved dinosaur fossils, paleontologists can get an idea of dinosaur coloration.

In 2008, scientists discovered melanosomes in the fossilized feathers of birds and feathered dinosaurs from China. The melanosomes were sausage-shaped, which in modern birds indicates black, gray or iridescent coloring. This suggests that these ancient birds and feathered dinos had blackish feathers and skin in places.

Fossilized Skin Impressions

Fossilized skin impressions are rare finds, but can also give clues to dinosaur coloration. Some had patterns consistent with a dark coloration, such as:

  • Sinosauropteryx – This feathered theropod dinosaur from China’s Liaoning Province shows a striped, banded pattern on its tail that could come from a darker base color with lighter striping.
  • Borealopelta – This armored nodosaur from Canada has a speckled pattern that researchers said was likely due to melanin variations, indicating this dinosaur was a reddish-brown or darker color.

Inferring from Modern Relatives

Looking at living descendants of dinosaurs’ closest relatives – like crocodiles, snakes, lizards and birds – can also provide hints about possible dinosaur colors. These include:

  • Many lizards and snakes use darker pigments to absorb or reflect heat from the sun to help regulate their body temperature.
  • Darker colors provide camouflage in the forest or at night.
  • Birds like crows and ravens are black or nearly black, which is a common avian coloration.

These facts suggest that darker coloration served important purposes for many reptiles and dinosaurs as well.

Which Dinosaurs May Have Been Black?

Based on the available evidence, here are some dinosaurs that may have been black or nearly black in coloration:

Dinosaur Evidence
Sinosauropteryx Striped pattern on fossilized skin impressions indicates countershading, which is common in black-colored animals.
Anchiornis Melanosome study showed black and gray feathers.
Microraptor Also had melanosomes indicating black iridescent feathers.
Indosuchus A darkly pigmented roof of mouth, similar to modern crocodiles with black coloration.

Some other dinosaurs that may have had dark coloration based on their modern relatives or habitat include:

  • Carnotaurus – Abelisaurid theropods like Carnotaurus were likely forest-dwellers, and black coloration would have provided camouflage in shady habitats.
  • Noasaurids – These small theropods are related to Abelisaurids and were also likely forest-dwellers.
  • Raptors like Deinonychus or Utahraptor – Their bird descendants include darkly colored birds like crows and ravens.
  • Sauropods like Apatosaurus – Some large modern mammals use black or dark brown as a dominance signal, so large sauropods may have too.

Why Black Coloration Makes Sense for Dinosaurs

There are several reasons why black or very dark shades of gray, brown, or green make sense for the coloration of many dinosaurs:

  • Camouflage – In the forests and shrublands many dinosaurs inhabited, black and dark earth tones helped them blend into the shadows.
  • Thermoregulation – Darker colors absorb more heat from the sun, helping regulate body temperature.
  • Communication – Darker pigments create stronger visual contrasts for species communication.
  • Protection from UV – Melanin also protects skin and eyes from ultraviolet radiation.

Modern paleoart depicting dinosaurs in duller, earth-toned color schemes is likely more accurate than early paintings showing them in grayish-green shades. Of course, dinosaurs came in many colors, but black and other dark melanistic shades were likely common.

Challenges in Reconstructing Dinosaur Color

While we can make educated guesses about dinosaur coloration, reconstructing definite colors for different species has challenges:

  • Limited fossil evidence – Skin impressions are very rare.
  • Unknown distribution – Even if melanosomes indicate some feathers were black, the whole animal may not have been.
  • Unknown functions – Did dark colors serve thermal, camouflage or communication roles?
  • Unknown structures – Feather shapes and density influence color but are unknown for many dinosaurs.

More fossils preserving skin, feathers and other soft tissues will help paleontologists continue to uncover the true colors of dinosaurs. Advanced microscopic and chemical techniques can extract more data from these rare fossils as well.

Famous Black Dinosaurs in Pop Culture

The hypothesis that many dinosaurs were dark-colored or even black is still making its way into pop culture depictions. But some famously dark-colored dinosaur characters include:

  • Indominus Rex – The genetically engineered hybrid villain in Jurassic World has white scales, but primarily black with some gray coloration overall.
  • Blue the Velociraptor – Blue has a distinctive dark blue stripe and other markings on a blackish base color in the Jurassic World films.
  • Spike the Ankylosaurus – This anthropomorphic dinosaur from The Land Before Time films is depicted as a dark gray or black color.

While these dinosaur characters are fictional and exaggerated, the blackish coloration choice does have some basis in real dinosaur biology!


In summary, while we can’t definitively know the colors of every dinosaur species, it appears likely from the fossil evidence that many dinosaurs had black feathers, scales, skin or other dark pigmentation. Darker colors served several important purposes for dinosaurs, especially those that lived in forests. Modern relatives of dinosaurs also showcase darker shades of black, brown, gray and green that their Mesozoic ancestors may have shared. While pop culture is still catching up on updated dinosaur depictions, some famous blackish dinosaur characters are at least somewhat scientifically plausible.