Many of the genes involved in the melanin color system are also tied to basic functions such as food intake, reproductive behaviors, the "fight or flight" process and other things. So the researchers believe that the color explosion in certain dinosaurs might have been linked to larger changes in their anatomy and metabolism.
"What is most exciting is that tracking color could potentially offer insight into dinosaur physiology," Clarke said.
The research could, for example, help to reveal the precise bodily changes that took place just as non-avian dinosaurs were evolving into birds, and why those changes occurred in the first place.
Color for color's sake is also of interest, allowing us to better recreate and envision what long-extinct animals looked like. This has been a challenge for researchers studying rather drab-looking fossils.
"The presence of pigment must not be confused with color, as even with a specific pigment being recognized, there are/were many factors that contribute to an organism's entire color palette," paleontologist Phillip Manning of the University of Manchester told Discovery News.
He continued, "Color is a function of the interaction of light with the surface structure and chemistry of a substrate (whether this be carapace, keratin, feathers, skin, scales or hair). The chemistry can be in part from pigments, but also from substances eaten by an organism, such as the pink of flamingos from their shrimp diet."
"There has possibly been wonderful color throughout the evolution of life on Earth," he concluded, "but whether the species alive could see or perceive it, as we or other species alive do today...that is a tougher question."