Researchers revealed the hidden stunning colors of almost 30 ancient seashells using ultra-violet (UV) light.
The seashells, which were between 6.6 and 4.8 million years old, appeared white in regular light, PLOS reported. When viewed in UV light, the shells' true colors appeared.
"The biology of modern Conidae (cone snails)-which includes the hyperdiverse genus Conus-has been intensively studied, but the fossil record of the clade remains poorly understood, particularly within an evolutionary framework," the researchers said in their study abstract.
Placing the fossils under UV light revealed the organic matter remaining in the shells fluoresces, allowing the shells to appear close to the way they did when they were home to living creatures. The researchers are still not sure which specific compounds in the shells are emitting the light when exposed to UV rays.
The groundbreaking technique allowed the researchers to document the coloration patterns of 28 different cone shell species found in the Dominican Republic. Thirteen of these shells proved to be species that were previously unknown to science, and could help provide new insight into the relationship between modern species.
The team then compared the coloration patterns of the ancient species with those of animals alive today, and found many displayed similarities. This finding suggests some modern species come from lineages that started in the Caribbean millions of years ago.
The one exception in this study was the newly distinguished species Conus carlottae, which has a striking polka-dotted shell that does not exist in modern cone snails today.