Even more dinosaur skin

RattailThis is the last I’ll say on this subject for a while, okay? In my previous two entries, I explained how dinosaurs might have been less scaly and more feathery or furry than the experts used to think. In case you’re not convinced yet, let’s have a deeper look at what modern mammals can tell us.

You probably recognize the first image. It’s a closeup of the tail of a pet rat. Spare me the ‘Eeewws,’ okay? Look at the details. Those are scales you see, arranged in rows across the tail, and lo and behold, right there interspersed among them are a whole bunch of hairs. Click the image for a better look. So I ask you, is a rat’s tail scaly or hairy? It would be dumb to choose either answer because clearly the answer is: BOTH!

Two miceAnd here are a couple more examples. Two more mammalian creatures, a marsupial mouse on the left and a regular mouse on the right. Different sizes and shapes of scales, but hair, hair, everywhere.

For some reason it has been hard for paleo-artists to decide whether to portray dinosaurs as scaly, hairy, feathery or — whatever. That’s why I think it’s worth taking the time to point out that the old-school choice, scaly, just has to be out of date. Given that every branch of the dinosaur family tree is now known to have members of the fuzzy or feathered variety, it simply is no longer acceptable to portray them in the old, scaly form. As I stressed last time, today’s chickens have developed an incredible diversity in their feather coverings over a short period of chicken breeding.

KilladilloSo let’s look and see what else mammals are able to show us. Here’s a scaly fellow. Oops! Road kill! Anyway, you can see that armadillos are covered from head to tail with heavy scales and have only a bit of fuzz on their belly, legs, and chinnie chin chins. Right?

Wrong!

The picture below is a photo of the rare hairy armadillo of the Amazon rain forests, a close cousin of the road-kill-adillo above. Except for her head and tail, she has dispensed with the scaly coating and opted for chic, luxurious fur. Can you blame her? How cute is that?

Cute-adilloSo, I think I’ve probably belabored this subject enough for now. Clearly, living animals show us that skin coverings can take on an incredible range of patterns, coverages, and um, er, coolness, and do so in the evolutionary blinking of an eye. They show us that fur and scales, or feathers and scales, can coexist and even intersperse. Maybe some of those scaly dino skins I showed in the previous entries once had tufts of fur or protofeathers interspersed, but such fine features were lost in the process of fossilization or excavation. Who knows what future fossils will tell us?

Dinosaur artists take note. The look and feel of dinosaur skin has come into a new age of fashion and taste. Don’t be left behind. Brush up on your feather and fur painting skills. They will be needed.

And dinosaur fans. Prepare to be amazed at the new look of the old beasties.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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