Researchers studying the fossils of a 3-year-old mouse that have disappeared what they called is a "major scientific development" in determining the color of the animal's fur.
The international team, led by researchers from the University of Manchester, first discovered chemical remains of red pigment in a fossil.
The researchers found the red pigmentation in the fossils Apodemus atavusAn extinct species associated with the field mice that exists on Earth today.
The team nicknamed the fossil "Mighty Mouse" because of its impressiveness and because "the X-ray images are simple mind-boggling," Professor Roy Wogelius, co-author of the study, told CBS News by e-mail.
Color plays an important role in evolution, researchers noted. The fossil X-rays enabled them to reveal phenomenlanin, the chemical remains of the red animal pigment – something that has never been made of the front. The study was published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
"This was a detailed effort involving physics, paleontology, organic chemistry and geochemistry," Wogelius said in a press release. "Working as a team, we were able to discover the chemical remains of red pigment in fossil animal material for the first time."
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"We now understand what to look for in the future and hope that these results will mean that we can become more confident in recreating extinct animals thus adding another dimension to the study of evolution," he said. Wogelius.
The same team were able to reveal black pigment in fossils during a previous study 10 years ago. However, the red pigment was much harder to detect. The color – typical of animals such as foxes – is less stable over geological time.
The mouse they studied, Apodemus atavus, it was about seven centimeters long and once ran through the fields of Germany millions of years ago, according to a press release.
After using the mouse's chemical properties to determine its fur color, scientists illustrated how the critic would have looked in a new artist forging.