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Cincotta, A., Nicolaï, M., Nascimento Campos, H.B., McNamara, M., D’Alba, L., Shawkey, M.D., Kischlat, E.E., Yans, J., Carleer, R. Escuillié, F., Godefroit, P., 2022. Pterosaur melanosomes support signalling functions for early feathers. Nature604, 684-688. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04622-3DOWNLOAD THE PDF HERE: Cincotta_et_al_2022_Nature_Pterosaur_melanosomes.pdf

What’s it about? We discovered that pterosaurs had the ability to manipulate the colour of their feathers, just like modern-day birds. This suggests that coloration – and visual signalling – was an important function of feathers even in their early evolution, in the common ancestor of pterosaurs and dinosaurs.

Yang, Z., Benton, M.J., Hone, D.W.E., Xu, X., McNamara, M.E., Jiang, B., 2022. Allometric analysis sheds light on the systematics and ontogeny of anurognathid pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, e2028796. DOI:

What's it about? In this paper we describe a new anurognathid pterosaur, Cascocauda rong, and show that all anurognathids share a common growth trajectory in skull and limb dimensions, suggesting a constant lifestyle throughout ontogeny and their over 40 million years of evolution.


Zhang, Y., Shih, P., Wang, J., McNamara, M.E., Shih, C., Ren, D., Taiping, G., 2021. Jurassic scorpionflies (Mecoptera) with swollen first metatarsal segments suggesting sexual dimorphism. BMC Ecology and Evolution21, 47. DOI:

What’s it about? In this paper we report unusual swellings on the legs of beautifully preserved male scorpionflies from the Jurassic Yanliao (Daohuguo) biota. While we’re not fully certain of the purpose of these odd structures, comparison with extant insects suggests that they may have been used for mating displays and/or during copulation.

Rossi, V., Webb, S.M., McNamara, M., 2021. Maturation experiments reveal bias in the chemistry of fossil melanosomes. Geology49, 784-788. DOI:

What’s it about? In this paper we use maturation experiments to identify chemical signatures for diagenetically altered melanosomes in fossils.

McNamara, M.E.Rossi, V.Slater, T.S.Rogers, C.S., Ducrest, A.-L., Dubey, S., Roulin, A., 2021. Decoding the Evolution of Melanin in Vertebrates. Trends in Ecology and Evolution36, 430-443. DOI:

What’s it about? In this paper we synthesise data on the distribution of melanin in different tissues and animals across the vertebrate tree to produce the first model on the evolution of melanin (and its functions) based on both fossil and modern data.


Rogers, C.S., Webb, S.M., McNamara, M.E., 2021. Synchrotron x‐ray fluorescence analysis reveals diagenetic alteration of fossil melanosome trace metal chemistry. Palaeontology64, 63-73. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Rogers_et_al_2020_Palaeontology_Melanosome_taphonomy.pdf

What’s it about? In this paper we use maturation experiments to show how thermal maturation, and external sources of metal ions, can change the trace element chemistry of eye melanosomes, explaining some of the chemical signatures we see in fossils.

Yang, Z., Jiang, B., McNamara, M.E., Kearns, S.L., Pittman, M., Kaye, T.G., Orr, P.J., Xu, X., Benton, M.J. 2020. Reply to: ‘No protofeathers on pterosaurs’. Nature Ecology and Evolution4, 1592-1593. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Yang_et_al_2020_Nat_Ecol_Evol_Reply_No_protofeathers.pdf

What’s it about? In this paper we refute claims that the integumentary structures in pterosaurs are not feathers based on the anatomical distribution and taphonomy of the fossil structures and on the distribution of feather types in extant birds.

Rossi, V., Webb, S.M., McNamara, M.E., 2020. Hierarchical biota-level and taxonomic controls on the chemistry of fossil melanosomes revealed using synchrotron X-ray fluorescence. Scientific Reports10, 8970. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Rossi_et_al_2020_Sci_Rep_Hierarchical_controls.pdf

What’s it about? We report the discovery of internal melanosomes in fossil vertebrates older than the dinosaurs. The chemistry of the fossil melanosomes is linked to that of their host sediment, confirming that melanosome chemistry can be altered by geological processes.

McDonald, L.T., Narayanan, S., Sandy, A., Saranathan, V., McNamara, M.E., 2020. Brilliant angle-independent structural colours preserved in weevil scales from the Swiss Pleistocene. Biology Letters16, 20200063. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McDonald_et_al_2020_Biol_Letters_Interface.pdf

What’s it about? In this paper we report the discovery of brilliant green colours preserved in the scales of a fossil weevil from Switzerland. The colours are produced by fossilized diamond-type photonic structures and were used for camouflage in leafy undergrowth.

Slater, T., Ashbrook, K., Kriwet, J., 2020. Evolutionary relationships among bullhead sharks (Chondrichthyes, Heterodontiformes). Papers in Palaeontology, 6, 425-437. DOI:

What’s it about? This paper investigates the relationships and diversity of bullhead sharks through deep time and stresses the importance of using non-dental characters for taxonomic analyses of fossil sharks.

Tian, Q., Wang, S., Yang, Z., McNamara, M.E., Benton, M.J., Jiang, B., 2020. Experimental investigation of insect deposition in lentic environments and implications for formation of insect Konservat-Lagerstätten. Palaeontology63, 565-578. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Tian_et_al_2020_Palaeontology_KL.pdf

What’s it about? We did experiments to help us understand how insects fossilize. In particular we studied how long fossil insects float at the water surface, and how easily ashfalls can submerge insects and cause them to sink.


Rogers, C.S.Astrop, T.I.A.McNamara, M.E., Webb, S., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K., 2019. Synchrotron-X-ray absorption spectroscopy of melanosomes in vertebrates and cephalopods: implications for the affinity of TullimonstrumProceedings B286, 20191649. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Rogers_et_al_2019_Proc_B_Tullimonstrum.pdf

What’s it about? We report that melanosomes in the eyes of invertebrates can be arranged by shape and size calling into question the idea that this feature is unique to vertebrates. We also used eye melanosome chemistry to work out which group of animals the bizarre fossil Tully monster belongs to.

Slater, T.S.McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Foley, T.B., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K., 2019. Taphonomic experiments resolve controls on the preservation of melanosomes and keratinous tissues in feathers. Palaeontology63103-115. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Slater_et_al_2019_Palaeontology_Taphonomy_keratin.pdf

What’s it about? We performed experiments on modern feathers to understand how they degrade. Our results reveal controls on the preservation of feather pigments in the fossil record and indicate that the feather protein keratin is likely to survive various fossilization processes.

Rossi, V.McNamara, M.E., Webb, S., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K., 2019. Tissue-specific geometry and chemistry of modern and fossilized melanosomes reveal internal anatomy of extinct vertebrates. PNAS116, 17880-17889. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Rossi_et_al_2019_PNAS_Internal_melanosomes.pdf

What’s it about? We report the discovery of internal melanosomes in modern amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, and in fossils. These internal melanosomes differ in shape and chemistry in different organs, shedding light on the internal anatomy of ancient animals.

Benton, M.J., Dhouailly, D., Jiang, B., McNamara, M., 2019. The early origin of feathers. Trends in Ecology and Evolution34, 856-869. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2019.04.018DOWNLOAD THE PDF HERE: Benton_et_al_2019_TREE_Origins_of_feathers_review.pdf

What’s it about? We reviewed current knowledge on the evolutionary origins of feathers over 200 million years ago in the Triassic Period, bringing together information from feathered dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and genetics.

Yang, Z.X., Jiang, B.Y., McNamara, M.E., Kearns, S.L., Pittman, M., Kaye, T.G., Orr, P.J., Xu, X., Benton, M.J., 2019. Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching. Nature Ecology and Evolution3, 24-30. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0728-7DOWNLOAD THE PDF HERE: Yang_et_al_2019_NEE_Pterosaur_feathers.pdf

What’s it about? We reported the discovery of branched feathers in pterosaurs – flying reptiles that are the sister group (close cousins) to the dinosaurs. This pushes back feather origins over 70 million years to the Early Triassic.

Yang, Z., Wang, S., Tian, Q., Wang, B., Hethke, M., McNamara, M.E., Benton, M.J., Xu, X., Jiang, B., 2019. Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction and biostratinomic analysis of the Jurassic Yanliao Lagerstätte in northeastern China. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology514, 739-753. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Yang_et_al_2019_P3_Palaeoenvironmental_reconstruction_Yanliao.pdf

What’s it about? We studied the sedimentary rocks that preserve fossils from the Jurassic fossil locality of Yanliao in NE China.


Odin, G.P.McNamara, M.E., Arwin, H., Järrendahl, K., 2018. Experimental degradation of helicoidal photonic nanostructures in scarab beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae): implications for the identification of circularly polarizing cuticle in the fossil record. Journal of the Royal Society Interface15. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Odin_et_al_2018_J_Roy_Soc_Interface_CPL.pdf

What’s it about? We did experiments to help us understand whether microscopic colour-producing structures in the shells of scarab beetles can fossilize readily.

McNamara, M.E., Kaye, J.S., Benton, M.J., Orr, P.J., Rossi, V., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K., 2018. Non-integumentary melanosomes bias reconstructions of the colours of fossil vertebrate skin. Nature Communications9, 2878. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2018_Nature_Comms_Nonintegumentary_melanosomes.pdf

What’s it about? We reported the discovery of melanosomes – tiny rounded structures rich in melanin – in the internal organs of modern and fossil frogs.

McNamara, M.E., Zhang, F., Kearns, S.L., Orr, P.J., Toulouse, A., Foley, T., Hone, D.W.E., Rogers, C.S., Benton, M.J., Johnson, D., Xu, X., Zhou, Z., 2018. Fossilized skin reveals coevolution with feathers and metabolism in feathered dinosaurs and early birds. Nature Communications9, 2072. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2018_Nature_Comms_Jehol_skin.pdf

What’s it about? We reported the discovery of fossil snake skin with all three types of pigment cell preserved, allowing us to reconstruct the snake’s original colour.

Zhang, Q., Mey, W., Ansorge, J., Starkey, T.A., McDonald, L.T.McNamara, M.E., Jarzembowski, E.A., Wichard, W., Kelly, R., Ren, X., Chen, J., Zhang, H., Wang, B., 2018. Fossil scales illuminate the early evolution of lepidopterans and structural colors. Science Advances4, e1700988. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Zhang_et_al_2018_Sci_Adv_Fossil_lepidopteran_scales.pdf

What’s it about? We reported the discovery of structurally coloured scales in fossil moths from the Jurassic Period.

Purnell, M.A., Donoghue, P.J.C., Gabbott, S.E., McNamara, M., Murdock, D.J.E., Sansom, R.S., 2018. Experimental analysis of soft-tissue fossilization – opening the black box. Palaeontology61, 317-323. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Purnell_et_al_2018_Palaeontology_Opening_the_black_box.pdf

What’s it about? We explained the best ways of doing experiments to understand fossilization.


Muscente, A.D., Schiffbauer, J.D., Broce, J., Laflamme, M., O’Donnell, K., Boag, T.H., Meyer, M., Hawkins, A.D., Huntley, J.W., McNamara, M., MacKenzie, L.A., Stanley Jr., G.D., Hinman, N.W., Hofmann, M.H., Xiao, S., 2017. Exceptionally preserved fossil assemblages through geologic time and space. Gondwana Research48, 164-188. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Muscente_et_al_2017_Gondwana_Research_Fossil_assemblages.pdf


Mears, E., Rossi, V., MacDonald, E., Coleman, G., Davies, T., Arias-Riesgo, C., Hildebrandt, C., Thiel, H., Duffin, C.J., Whiteside, D.I., Benton, M.J., 2016. The Rhaetian (Late Triassic) vertebrates of Hampstead Farm Quarry, Gloucestershire, UK. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association127, 478-505. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Mears_et_al_2016_Proc_GA_Rhaetian_vertebrates.pdf

Orr, P.J., Adler, L.B., Beardmore, S.R., Furrer, H., McNamara, M.E., Peñalver-Mollá, E., Redelstorff, R., 2016. “Stick ‘n’ peel”: Explaining unusual patterns of disarticulation and loss of completeness in fossil vertebrates. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology457, 380-388. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Orr_et_al_2016_P3_Stick_n_peel.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Van Dongen, B., Bull, I., Orr, P.J., 2016. Fossilisation of melanosomes via sulfurization. Palaeontology59, 337-350. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2016_Palaeontology_Sulfurization.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S.L., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P., Peñalver, E., 2016. Reconstructing carotenoid-based and structural coloration in fossil skin. Current Biology26, 1075-1082. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2016_Current_Biology_Fossil_skin.pdf


Rogers, C.S., Hone, D.W., McNamara, M.E., Zhao, Q., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S.K., Benton, M.J., 2015. The Chinese Pompeii? Death and destruction of dinosaurs in the Early Cretaceous of Lujiatun, NE China. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology427, 89-99. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Rogers_et_al_2015_P3_Chinese_Pompeii.pdf


Godefroit, P., Sinitsa, S.M., Dhouailly, D., Bolotsky, Y.L., Sizov, A.V., McNamara, M.E., Benton, M.J., Spagna, P., 2014. Response to Comment on ‘A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales’. Science, 346, 434-435. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Godefroit_et_al_2014_Science_Ornithischian_dino_response.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Saranathan, V., Locatelli, E., Noh, H., Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P., Cao, H., 2014. Cryptic iridescence in a fossil weevil generated by single diamond photonic crystals. Journal Of The Royal Society Interface11, 20140736. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2014_J_Roy_Soc_Interface_Weevils.pdf

Godefroit, P., Sinitsa, S.M., Dhouailly, D., Bolotsky, Y.L., Sizov, A.V., McNamara, M.E., Benton, M.J., Spagna, P., 2014. A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales. Science245, 451-455. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Godefroit_et_al_2014_Science_Ornithischian_dino.pdf

Anderson, R.P., McCoy, V., McNamara, M.E.,2014. What big eyes you have: the ecological role of giant pterygotid eurypterids. Biology Letters10, 2040412. DOI: THE PDF HERE: Anderson_et_al_2014_Biology_Letters_Eurypterids.pdf


McNamara, M.E., 2013. The taphonomy of colour in fossil insects and feathers. Palaeontology56, 557-575. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_2013_Palaeontology_Colour_insects_feathers.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P.J., Field, D., Wang, Z., 2013. Experimental maturation of feathers: implications for reconstructions of fossil feather colour. Biology Letters9, 20130184. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2013_Biology_Letters_Feather_maturation.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P.J., Gupta, N.S., Locatelli, E.R., Qiu, L., Yang, H., Wang, Z., Noh, H., Cao, H., 2013. The fossil record of insect color illuminated by maturation experiments. Geology41, 487-490. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2013_Geology_Insect_colour.pdf


McNamara, M.E., Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P.J., 2012. The controls on the preservation of structural color in fossil insects. Palaios27, 443-454. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2012_Palaios_Fossil_insects.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P.J., Noh, H., Cao, H., 2012. The original colours of fossil beetles. Proceedings of The Royal Society B279, 1114–1121. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2012_Proc_B_Fossil_beetles.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P., Peñalver, E., 2012. What controls the taphonomy of exceptionally preserved taxa – environment or biology? A case study using exceptionally preserved frogs from the Miocene Libros Konservat-Lagerstätte, Spain. Palaios27, 63-77. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2012_Palaios_Miocene_frogs.pdf


McNamara, M.E., Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P.J., Wedmann, S., Noh, H., Cao, H., 2011. Fossilized biophotonic nanostructures reveal the original colors of 47 million-year-old moths. PLoS Biology9, e1001200. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2011_PLoS_Biology_Moths.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Manzocchi, T., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P. Peñalver, E., 2011. Biological controls upon the physical taphonomy of exceptionally preserved salamanders from the Miocene of Rubielos de Mora, northeast Spain. Lethaia45, 210-226. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2011_Lethaia_Miocene_salamanders.pdf


McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P., Peñalver, E., 2010. Organic preservation of fossil musculature with ultracellular detail. Proceedings of The Royal Society B277, 423-427. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2010_Proc_B_Fossil_musculature.pdf


McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P., Peñalver, E., 2009. Exceptionally preserved tadpoles from the Miocene of Libros, Spain: Ecomorphological reconstruction and the impact of ontogeny upon taphonomy. Lethaia43, 290-306. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2009_Lethaia_Miocene_tadpoles.pdf

McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P., Peñalver, E., 2009. Soft tissue preservation in Miocene frogs from Libros (Spain): Insights into the genesis of decay microenvironments. Palaios24, 104-117. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2009_Palaios_Libros_frogs_microenvironments.pdf


McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P., Peñalver, E., 2006. High fidelity preservation of bone marrow in c. 10 million year old amphibians. Geology34, 641-644. DOI: THE PDF HERE: McNamara_et_al_2006_Geology_Amphibian_bone_marrow.pdf

Maria McNamara Research Group

Experimental and analytical taphonomy

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), University College Cork (UCC), Butler Building, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, T23 TK30, Ireland