Dinosaurs Had Dandruff Problems, Too

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iStock

One of the most compelling aspects of paleontology is its ability to surprise even the most well-versed dinosaur scholars. Every fossil holds the potential to shed new light on how these prehistoric creatures lived, ate, and thrived.

Now, scientists have learned some dinos would have benefited from a medicated shampoo.

A study published in Nature Communications examining 125-million-year-old fossils discovered in China demonstrates that dinos expressed a condition common to humans: Their skin would flake off, creating tiny dandruff specks. The paper helps provide an explanation for how dinosaurs managed to molt, or shed skin in an effort to create tougher exterior tissue.

The specimens consisted of skin and feathers from three different non-avian dinosaurs—the crow-sized Microraptor and the larger Beipiaosaurus and Sinornithosaurus—and one bird, Confuciusornis, all from the Early Cretaceous period. The feathers were dotted with white, 1-2 millimeter blobs that initially puzzled scientists, who eventually visualized them with an ion beam microscope. Researchers confirmed them to be flakes of skin composed of corneocytes, tough cells containing keratin. The flecks suggested that these dinosaurs molted by shedding skin like modern birds instead of casting off chunks of skin like other reptiles.

The corneocytes of today's birds contain fats and loosely packed keratin, which allows birds to stay cool during heat-intensive activity like flying. The dino corneocytes were densely packed with keratin, and they probably wouldn't have provided much of a cooling effect. That tells scientists that the bird-like dinosaurs didn't spend too much time in the air.

If they didn't fly, why the feathers? It probably had to do with keeping warm and providing camouflage from both predators and prey. Researchers hope to continue their studies on the plumage to see what else they can learn.

[h/t Popular Science]

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

After 20 Years, the Largest Dinosaur Foot Ever Discovered Has Been Identified

In 1998, paleontologists unearthed a fossil in Wyoming that experts agree is still the largest dinosaur foot ever discovered. Comprising 13 bones, the nearly complete fossil is 3 feet wide. And researchers say they've finally figured out who it belonged to.

As Gizmodo reports, the massive foot was likely that of a brachiosaur that roamed the Black Hills mountain range 150 million years ago. Brachiosaurs were sauropods that used their long necks to reach vegetation growing up to 40 feet off the ground. They could grow 80 feet long and weigh 88 tons.

The process of identifying the foot, which researchers explain in the journal PeerJ, took so long only because paleontologists in the West are digging up more fossils than they have time to study. When they finally got around to examining the foot bones, they made CGI models of them with a 3D scanner and compared them to other known examples of sauropod feet.

Though they're confident the foot comes from a brachiosaur—any member of the genus Brachiosaurus—scientists haven't been able to link it to one specific species.

This may be the biggest foot fossil ever found, but that doesn't necessarily make this species of brachiosaur the dinosaur with the largest shoe size. Foot fossils are rare: Because they're smaller and they're extremities, feet are more likely to be washed away or picked off by scavengers than other parts of the body. So while titanosaur and argentinosaurus, the largest known dinosaurs, almost certainly had more colossal feet than this brachiosaur, their actual foot fossils have yet to be discovered.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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