Ancient reptiles saw red before turning red | Science News

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Ancient reptiles saw red before turning red

Gene in birds, turtles linked to both vision and coloration

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1:13pm, August 8, 2016
painted turtle and zebra finch

SEEING RED  A gene shared by western painted turtles and zebra finches points to red color vision, and perhaps red coloration, in dinosaurs.

You’ve got to see it to be it. A heightened sense of red color vision arose in ancient reptiles before bright red skin, scales and feathers, a new study suggests. The finding bolsters evidence that dinosaurs probably saw red and perhaps displayed red color.

The new finding, published in the Aug. 17 Proceedings of the Royal Society B, rests on the discovery that birds and turtles share a gene used both for red vision and red coloration. More bird and turtle species use the gene, called CYP2J19, for vision than for coloration, however, suggesting that its first job was in sight.  

“We have this single gene that has two very different functions,” says evolutionary biologist Nicholas Mundy of the University of Cambridge. Mundy’s team wondered which function came first: the red vision or the ornamentation.

In evolution, what an animal can see is

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