LIVING creatures have had tinges of ginger for ten million years, a study reveals.
Scientists found fragments of the pigment molecule that causes the colouration in fossilised frogs.
Living creatures were ginger 10 million years ago[/caption]
The discovery of phaeomelanin will enable palaeontologists to better reconstruct the original colours from the fossils of extinct organisms.
It followed lab tests on black, ginger and white feathers to track how pigments degrade during fossilisation.
The find means some ancient humans were redheads — such as Fred Flintstone’s cartoon wife Wilma and daughter Pebbles.
Dr Tiffany Slater, of UCC, said: “This finding is so exciting because it puts palaeontologists in a better place to detect different melanin pigments in many more fossils.
“This will paint a more accurate picture of ancient animal colour and will answer important questions about the evolution of colours in animals.
“Scientists still don’t know how, or why, phaeomelanin evolved because it’s toxic to animals, but the fossil record might just unlock the mystery.”
Her colleague Prof Maria McNamara said the tests were key to understanding fossil chemistry and proved traces of biomolecule “can survive being cooked during the fossilisation process”.