Fossilized skin reveals coevolution with feathers and metabolism in feathered dinosaurs and early birds

Journal: Nature Communications

Published: 2018-05-25

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04443-x

Affiliations: 8

Authors: 12

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Research Highlight

Shedding light on dinosaur dandruff

© Sergey Krasovskiy/Stocktrek Images/Getty

© Sergey Krasovskiy/Stocktrek Images/Getty

Prehistoric dandruff has revealed that feathered dinosaurs shed their skin in flakes like modern birds and humans.

A team including researchers from University College Cork were studying the fossilized feathers of three winged dinosaurs, including Microraptor (pictured), and an early bird called the Confuciusornis that lived around 125 million years ago, when they noticed white flakes scattered amongst the preserved plumage. 

Studying the flakes under a microscope, the researchers saw cells rich in keratin, the protein that builds skin, hair, and nails. They compared the flakes with skin from present day finches and sparrows and found a similar cell structure, but the dinosaur dandruff was more densely packed with keratin. This structure left no space for fat, which, in modern birds, helps regulate body temperature while in flight.

An inability to control body heat suggests that these early feathered dinosaurs and birds had not fully evolved for take-off.

Supported content

  1. Nature Communications 9, 2072 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-04443-x
Institutions Share
University College Cork (UCC), Ireland 0.33
University of Bristol (UoB), United Kingdom (UK) 0.17
Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), CAS, China 0.17
Linyi University (LYU), China 0.08
University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland 0.08
Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), United Kingdom (UK) 0.08
The Open University (OU), United Kingdom (UK) 0.08