In Scales vs. Feathers Dino Debate, Some New Evidence

T. rex skin fossil suggests the carnivore was scaled
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2017 11:03 AM CDT
In Scales vs. Feathers Dino Debate, Some New Evidence
A cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in Montana greets visitors as they enter the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington.    (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Just when you were getting used to the idea of dinosaurs being covered in downy feathers, new evidence suggests that this theory may not apply to one of natural history’s most famous carnivores. Science reports that though cousins of the Tyrannosaurus rex likely sported feathers, a new study examining skin fossils of the T. rex suggests the king of beasts had scaly skin. The paper, published in the journal Biology Letters, details the findings of scientists who studied the fossilized skin of a T. rex named Wyrex, which has been stored in the Houston Museum of Natural Science since 2006. Samples from the neck, pelvis, chest, abdomen, and tail of Wyrex and other tyrannosaurid dinosaurs (Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Gorgosaurus and Tarbosaurus) indicated scaly skin, not feathers.

"With all the hype about feathered theropods, it's easy to forget that actually most dinosaurs had scaly, reptilian-like skin," study author Phil R. Bell tells the Washington Post. If T. rex did have feathers, the study says they’d be isolated to the dino’s back and spine, areas that were not examined since no known samples exist. Fossilized skin samples of the T. rex are rare because the methods paleontologists previously favored to get to the dinosaur’s bones involved a lot of smashing, reports the Post. The study suggests that since T. rex's earlier relatives had feathers, the dinosaur likely lost them for evolutionary reasons. "Big animals have trouble shedding excess heat," Bell says, "so being covered in feathers is not a good idea unless you live somewhere cold." (Feathered or not, dinos apparently danced.)

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