Dino 'mummy' has skin turned to stone
Dec 07,2007 00:00 by Bend_Weekly_News_Sources

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.

The fossilized skin of "Dakota." (Courtesy Nat'l Geographic Society)

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. 

“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