Paleontologists from University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland have discovered 125 million-year-old scales conserved under the plumage of feathered dinosaurs and early birds, providing the first evidence of how dinosaurs cut their skin.
Dr. Maria McNamara and her team studied the fossil cells and scales of modern birds with powerful electron microscopes for the study, published today in the journal Nature Communications .
"The fossil cells are preserved with incredible detail – right down to the level of nanoscale keratin fibrils, noteworthy being that the fossil scales are almost identical to those found in modern birds – even the spiraling twist of individual fibers is still visible," he said Dr. Maria McNamara.
Just like human dandruff, the fossil dandruff is made up of tough cells, called corneocytes, that are dry in life and full of the keratin protein.
The study suggests that this modern skin feature developed at some point in the late Middle Jurassic around the same time developed a variety of other skin characteristics. "At that time, there was an outbreak of feathered dinosaurs and birds, and it's exciting to find evidence that the skin of early birds and dinosaurs developed rapidly in response to supporting feathers," Dr. McNamara.
Dr. McNamara led the study, in collaboration with her postdoctoral fellow. Chris Rogers; Dr. Andre Toulouse and Tara Foley, also from UCC; Dr. Paddy Orr of UCD, Ireland; and an international team of paleontologists from the UK and China
The scales are the first evidence of how dinosaurs shed their skin. The feathered dinosaurs studied ̵
Co-author Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences said: "It's unusual to be able to study the skin of a dinosaur, and the fact that these are dandruff proves the dinosaur does not lose it his whole skin like a modern lizard or snake, but loses skin fragments between its feathers. "
Modern birds have very oily corneocytes with loosely packed keratin that allow them to cool quickly if they fly for long periods of time. However, the corneocytes in the fossil dinosaurs and birds were packed with keratin, suggesting that the fossils did not get as warm as modern birds, presumably because they could not fly at all or for so long.
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