A duckbilled dinosaur that died 70 million years ago in what is now New Mexico left behind the most detailed impressions ever seen of the grooved bumps on a dinosaur’s skin, paleontologists say.
“The skin is as close as you can get to petting a dinosaur,” said Brian Anderson of the Mesa Southwest Museum in Mesa, Ariz., who is part of a team of scientists studying the fossils.
Dinosaur skin impressions are rare finds, and most are not very well preserved. This particularly detailed fossil from a Hadrosaur was discovered in southwestern New Mexico in 1991, and paleontologists this year found more fossils of the two-ton beast in fine sand. All told, there is about one square foot of skin fossils.
“It’s probably the best preserved that I’ve seen personally,” said Reese Barrick, a paleontologist and assistant professor at North Carolina State University.
The skin contains tubercles small bumps resembling mashed down volcanoes that appear some what like those on modern-day Gila monsters, Anderson said.
Dan Chure, park paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument at Jensen, Utah, said it is the most detailed look at such ornamentation that he has ever seen.
The tubercles - more than 60 of which have been measured - range from a tenth of an inch to a half inch in diameter and are about an eighth of an inch high. Each tubercle has grooves and ridges that start at the top, then expand, or radiate, downward to the base of the cone.
“For the first time, we’ve actually been able to look at the details of dinosaur skin to really determine what subtle features were present,” Anderson said.
The purpose of the bumps is unclear.
The paleontologists said they could have been used as radiators, to expand the skin surface and help the dinosaur get rid of heat. Or the bumps could have made the skin rougher, toughening it to protect the animal when it ran through trees or came under attack.