A newly unveiled “dinosaur mummy” is one of the best-preserved of the ancient reptiles found to date, according to researchers—who say this one may have had stripes and the ability to outrun fearsome T. rex.
Scientists on Monday announced a preliminary analysis of the 67-million-year-old duck-billed dinosaur, with muscles and bones preserved in large, intact segments of skin.
The fossilized skin of "Dakota." (Courtesy Nat'l Geographic Society)
“This specimen exceeds the jackpot,” excavation leader Phillip Manning, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, U.K., said in the online edition of National Geographic magazine Monday.
The National Geographic Channel is to air a special on the excavation, “Dino Autopsy,” on Dec. 9. The channel and magazine are owned by the National Geographic Society, which funded the research.
“Our dinosaur mummy makes many other dinosaurs look like road kill… because the evidence we’re getting from our creature is so complete compared to the disjointed sort of skeletons that we usually have to draw conclusions from,” said Manning.
Nearly everything we know of dinosaurs comes from bones and teeth, usually the only parts hard enough to fossilize. But this creature, dubbed Dakota, survived nearly intact, Manning continued. That allows scientists to reconstruct major muscle sizes, offering a tantalizing glimpse of a 3-D dinosaur.
Dakota may alter our understanding of how dinosaurs looked and moved, he added. Its backside, he said, seems to be 25 percent larger than previously thought, suggesting it could have run 45 kilometers (28 miles) an hour—50 percent faster than T. rex. The skin also shows evidence of a possibly striped camouflage pattern in some areas, researchers said. A pattern of banding was found in the larger and smaller scales, something that in modern reptiles is often associated with color patterns, Manning explained.
One of a group of plant-eating dinosaurs known as hadrosaurs, Dakota was discovered in 1999 by then-teenage paleontologist Tyler Lyson on his family’s North Dakota property. It was not “mummified” in the sense of King Tut, but in the sense that mineral processes turned large tracts of its body into stone before bacteria ate it.
“What usually would have been wiped out by the decay process—the mineralization has been so rapid that it is trapped and preserved,” Manning told the magazine. Hadrosaurs had horny, toothless beaks but hundreds of teeth in their cheeks and a long, stiff tail that was likely used for balance. Scientific papers based on study of the dinosaur are in progress, researchers said.
Courtesy National Geographic Society and World Science staff