Jan
09
2008

Fossil reveals dinosaur skin secrets

Psittacosaurus: Look how his skin bristles and shines!
Psittacosaurus: Look how his skin bristles and shines!Courtesy AMNH
No, this isn't about making your skin brontosaurus smooth or how to remove the million year-old age spots you've noticed cropping up on the back of your hands. This is about the secrets revealed in the remains of a 100 million year-old plant-eating dinosaur that are providing new information about the anatomy of the prehistoric beasts.

The Psittacosaurus (“parrot lizard”) fossil was dug up in China by paleontologists from England and South Africa. Besides the usual bones, some of the beaked dinosaur’s skin was preserved as well, providing a rare glimpse into its skin structure.

The outer covering of the bipedal herbivore seems to have been torn open by a predator or scavenger, leaving its skin folded back to reveal a cross-section of it. Tooth marks found on the fossil add weight to that theory.

The preservation of skin and other soft tissue is a rare occurrence in the fossil record. But sometimes, unusual burial conditions can result in some uncommon and very remarkable fossils.

In the Psittacosaur’s case, the folded back skin exhibits more than 25 layers of collagen, suggesting it to be of a rugged variety like that of sharks or reptiles today. A tough hide would have been an asset against the daily rigors the Psittacosaurus no doubt faced during its lifetime in the Early Cretaceous.

The scientists also wonder if the thick skin may not have been further protected with feather or scales. Of course, all you need is a bottle of Skin-so-soft or some Vaseline.

LINKS
Story on BBC.com

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