Dinosaur Colours

26 October, 2008

An artist's impression of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
An artist's impression of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Image: Kate Nolan (illustrator)
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Can you tell us what colour T-Rex was? Every picture we’ve seen is a different colour? What colour were all the other dinosaurs?

Answer: Thank you for your very interesting question about the colour of Tyrannosaurus Rex and all the other dinosaurs. The simple answer is that we don’t know.

Because dinosaurs lived so long ago, we can really only learn about them by studying fossils. Most of the dinosaur fossils that have been found are the hard parts of the animal – the bones, claws and teeth. This is because the soft parts – the skin, muscle, internal organs, etc – usually rot or are eaten by scavengers long before the process of fossilisation begins.

Dinosaur bones, teeth and claws tell us a great deal about how big dinosaurs were, what shapes their bodies took, how they moved and even what they ate, but these fossils cannot tell us anything about what colour dinosaurs were or what their skin felt like.

Fossil impressions of dinosaur skin have been found, but as they only form under certain conditions, they are very rare. Good skin impressions can tell us exactly what the texture of the skin was like, but they reveal nothing about the colour of the skin. We therefore have no evidence to tell us what colour dinosaurs were.

Modern reptiles come in a variety of colours; some even have the ability to change their colour. The colour of a reptile’s skin helps it to conceal or disguise itself. Colour is also often used to attract mates or scare off predators and potential rivals. So while we do not know what colour Tyrannosaurus Rex was, we can make some educated guesses.

T-Rex was a large carnivorous dinosaur with big teeth. Scientists have established that T-Rex was not a particularly fast runner, nor could she run for long distances. If T-Rex was a hunter, she would have had to creep up on her prey. Animals that hunt in this way need to be well camouflaged: T-Rex’s skin colour would have had to blend in with her surroundings. However, if T-Rex was primarily a scavenger, camouflage would not have been an issue. Scavengers simply need a good sense of smell and the ability to scare off whoever got to the meal first. T-Rex certainly fits this job description.

All the pictures you have seen of dinosaurs are artists’ impressions. They may have been very accurate in regards to the size, shape and posture of the animal, but the colour is just guesswork. What colour or colours do you think each dinosaur was?

Comments (5)

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JORDAN 27 October, 2012 15:55
I JUST LOVE T REXES
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Brock 6 August, 2013 07:10
Camouflage T-Rexes... not your usual kind!
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sara davis 26 March, 2014 10:34
My brother loves T Rex's
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Abdulaziz Alhashemi 1 November, 2014 02:25
I just Love The The T-REX alot it is my favorite carnivorous dinosaur and i think it is one of the greatest creations of The Almighty Allah. I think it had a light color and had spots or stripes.
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kim 12 December, 2014 14:06
well, if they lived in jungle they would likely be green. If they lived in a desert they would likely be brown. What kind of terrain did they live in? The big intact one, Sue, they say had wounds they think were made by struggling prey, you know, the kicking of something it was killing. That doesn't sound like a scavenger.
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