When it comes to personal hygiene, there is not much overlap between dinosaurs and humans. But a new study suggests that early feathered dinos suffered from a known condition: dandruff. As reported by Ian Sample in The Guardian researchers have discovered the skin flats of several feathered dinosaurs that fluttered about 125 million years ago.
Paleontologists were not looking for skin fluff, reports Matt McGrath at the BBC. They made the discovery in 2012 while studying the fossilized feathers of Cretaceous dinosaurs using electron microscopy and chemical analysis. The feathery dinos included the crow-sized microraptor an early bird species confuuciusornis and two larger feathered dinos, named beipiaosaurus and sinornithosaurus
"[W] When we looked at the feathers, we always found those little white spots, the stuff was everywhere, it was between all the feathers, "said lead author Maria McNamara of University College Cork to McGrath. "We started to wonder if it was a biological trait like fragments of shells or reptile skin, but it's not compatible with any of these things."
After eliminating the many possibilities, the researchers concluded that the fragments are conserved skin. "[I] It's identical in structure to the outer part of the skin in modern birds, which we would call dandruff," says McNamara McGrath. They describe the find in a study published in the journal Nature Communications .
The find indicates that the skin of these bird-like dinosaurs has chipped off between them instead of stripping their entire skin like reptiles or snakes their feathers ̵
Dandruff in birds, dinosaurs and humans consists of cells called corneocytes. In modern birds, these corneocytes are fatty and the keratin is loosely packed, allowing the birds not only to shed but also to stay cool during energy-intensive activities such as flies.
But the latest fossils suggest that Dino corneocytes were packed more densely with keratin. "[T] Here's no proof that they even had fats in these cells," McNamara tells McGrath. This means that they probably have not spent much time in the air due to less efficient heat exchange. Their body temperatures were probably also lower than in modern birds, "almost like a transitional metabolism between a cold-blooded reptile and a warm-blooded bird," says McNamara.
If these feathered dinosaurs could not fly, why did they have? Plumage? The researchers are not sure why exactly the first springs were created, but there are many possibilities. Fuzzy feathers could have been used to insulate eggs in nests, and larger feathers could shade eggs or pups. Light feathers may have replaced the bony ridges and ornate horns used to attract friends. Since critters can skin, they could then change their color during certain seasons to camouflage themselves. They could also have helped some dinos with balance. Anyway, Dandruff was a small prize for one of nature's coolest and most sophisticated developments.
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