Sinosauropteryx reconstruction from the book by Bob Nicholls

New visions: Dinosaur book that seeks to dispel myths about their appearance

Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World is a new book which sets out to correct the misconception that dinosaurs were cumbersome and drab-looking.

Ask anyone to think of a dinosaur and they will likely imagine a T. rex. It’ll be large, dull-coloured and scaly.

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And it’s wrong.

In Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World, expert palaeobiologist Michael J Benton at the University of Bristol and world renowned paleoartist Bob Nicholls will change everything you thought you knew about what dinosaurs looked like and how they lived.

The book brings to life the long-extinct creatures with insight into their behaviour, adaptations and appearance by drawing on the latest science and cutting-edge research.

No longer heavy footed, slow and drab, Dinosaurs will show their true colours at last. The following gallery, featuring images from the book and captions especially written by Professor Michael J Benton, show the increasingly sophisticated ways dinosaurs have been represented over time.


Richard Owen’s early dinosaur drawings

Crystal Palace exhibition Richard Owen dinosaur reconstructions in the foreground, by the London printer George Baxter.
View of the relocated Crystal Palace exhibition with Victorian palaeontologist Richard Owen’s fantastical dinosaur reconstructions in the foreground, by the London printer George Baxter. Photo by Wellcome Collection

An early pterosaur drawing

pterosaurs early drawing
The first attempt to understand what Pterosaurs might have looked like is demonstrated in a lively drawing by Edward Newman published in 1843. At the time, Newman thought they were some kind of flying marsupial, but at least the idea that they were covered with insulating fur had already been established. Photo by Natural History Museum

Dryptosaurus

Dryptosaurus fighting by Charles Knight extinct species.
Charles Knight painted this dynamic scene called Leaping Laelaps in 1897. It depicts two fighting Dryptosaurus dinosaurs, one of the earliest theropod species known to science. Knight’s careful study of the anatomy and behaviour of living animals enlivened his sketches of extinct species. Photo by American Museum of Natural History

Psittacosaurus

Psittacosaurus reconstruction
Chinese palaeontologists have excavated thousands of skeletons of Psittacosaurus from the Early Cretaceous, including many clutches of babies. One amazing specimen shows the entire skin covering of an adult, with dark brown colours over the back, a creamy colour over the belly, and big brown speckles over the arms. Those crazy stems on the tail are right there in the fossil; they are some amazing kind of feather, planted tightly into the skin, and maybe used for signalling to mates. Painting by Bob Nicholls

Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus reconstruction
This plant-eating hadrosaur from the Late Cretaceous, 70 million years ago, has closely-fitting scales over its whole body. Fossils of Edmontosaurus were found in Canada preserved as ‘mummies’ with the skeleton inside a sheath of ‘skin’, which was mainly impressions of the skin surface on the surrounding sandstone. So we know the body shape and skin texture, but not the colour of the head crest – but this was used for signalling and a bright colour is likely. Painting by Bob Nicholls

Sinosauropteryx

Sinosauropteryx snatches lizard Dalinghosaurus from a small pool and shakes it. Dinosaurs did not chew their food, so he grabs the prey animal, twists it round so it faces head-first and gulps it down. This is why there is a whole lizard skeleton inside the guts of one of the museum specimens of Sinosauropteryx (see page 33). This image shows the ginger-and-white striped tail, the countershading along the side, and the bandit mask. Painting by Bob Nicholls.
The first feathered dinosaur ever reported, 25 years ago, in 1966. Its feather colours were identified in 2010 from melanosomes, capsules inside the tiny feathers that carried a pigment called phaeomelanin. In modern birds and mammals, phaeomelanin gives only ginger colours, and in Sinosauropteryx the ginger colour occurred in regular stripes along the tail. Camouflage or signalling? Not camouflage, because the whole body should then be stripy. Painting by Bob Nicholls

Dinosaurs, now in colour:

Archaeopteryx

Archaeopteryx reconstruction.
The first bird from 150 million years ago from the latest Jurassic of Germany. Its feathers were first seen in 1861, and they are not just impressions in the rock, but original organic material survives. Under the microscope the feathers are full of sausage-shaped melanosomes, which contained the pigment eumelanin, in varying amount; close packing gave black colours, and more spaced out gives greys. The monochrome patterns might have been partly for camouflage to protect it from predators in the trees. Painting by Bob Nicholls

More images from Science Focus Magazine:

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Anurognathid

Anurognathid reconstruction
This pterosaur is not a dinosaur, but a close relative, that lived 170 million years ago, in the Middle Jurassic. With its short, whiskery face it is perfectly adapted as an insect-eater. Its short feathers contain melanosomes with melanin pigments that indicate a uniform, brownish colour. At one time, the whiskers of pterosaurs were thought to be unique, but in fact they include branching small feathers, as seen in dinosaurs and birds. Painting by Bob Nicholls

Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World by Michael J Benton and Bob Nicholls is out now (£25, Thames & Hudson).

Dinosaurs New Visions of a Lost World book cover