Scientific theories change with time. New fossils are found, new ideas arise. What you’re looking at here is the latest in dinosaur fashions: fur! Now, I’m sure I’ll be in for some criticism for this image, which I created in Photoshop for the cover of my latest short story, “Saving Pachyrhinosaurus,” but I’ve been on the sidelines too long. Scientific discoveries have been building an increasingly complex view of this great horned dinosaur, but no one has gone so far as to suggest what I’m suggesting. Maybe these beasts were covered in fur like the wooly rhinoceros of the much more recent Ice Ages.
Take a good look by clicking the image to get a larger view. The snow-blanketed wool on a dinosaur is just not something you see every day — or ever, until now. Most people think of dinosaurs as having lived in a time when the world was covered all over with tropical swamps and steaming jungles. Scientists have known for quite some time that that view is not exactly correct. There was always snow somewhere on earth, either at the poles or on high mountain slopes. To be sure, the world was a warmer place in the day of the dinosaur, but not all that much warmer than now. Furthermore, fossils of this very dinosaur, pachyrhinosaurus, have recently been uncovered on the North Slope of Alaska. Based on a complete lack of co-fossilized turtles and crocodiles the discoverers concluded that the pachyrhinosaurs they are unearthing lived in an environment that froze quite solid in wintertime. Crocs and turtles can’t survive in such places.
So I got to thinking, if scaly cold blooded reptiles couldn’t hack the North Slope in the waning days of the Cretaceous Era, then why would your typical scaly ceratopsian dino do any better? Cold is cold and I for one wouldn’t want to hang out on the North Slope for any length of time without a coat of some kind to wear. So how about fur?
Supporting this notion is the recent discovery in China of an ancestor of pachyrhinosaurus, tianyulong, that was preserved in fine enough detail to show it had fur-like fine strands of something on much of its body. Having this new information in hand, it’s not too great a stretch to figure out that a polar species of dinosaur might adapt to the chill by growing thick fur all over its body. That’s exactly analogous to what the cave paintings of our ancestors tell us about the wooly rhinoceros.
Think about it. If you look at African rhinos, you could make an assertion that all rhinoceroses are naked-skinned — and you’d be wrong. When one species migrated up far to the north, the little tufts of fur that can be found here and there on African rhinos transformed into a think blanket of wool. Just right for warming those long winter nights.
So, I just applied the same logic to pachyrhinosaurus, and voila! the wooly beast you see at right. No one has dug up a wool-covered pachyrhinosaurus fossil yet, but the logic is compelling. Just as an African rhinoceros would shiver to death in an Arctic snowstorm, so too would the pachyrhinosaurs, unless they had insulating jackets of fur to keep them warm.
By the way, I’ve posted a full-sized image of Pachyrhinosaurus In Winter on my artwork distribution website. For very little cash, you can have an even more detailed art print of this image sent to you straight from the source, which you can frame and hang on your wall, or use to amaze your friends — or both!
Note added June 12, 2015: The short story version of “Saving Pachyrhinosaurus” has been incorporated into the new full length book, Dinosaur Tales.