Dinosaur Dandruff Provides Insight Into Prehistoric Evolution of Birds

PetMD Editorial
Published: May 31, 2018
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Paleontologists just confirmed in the study, “Fossilized skin reveals coevolution with feathers and metabolism in feathered dinosaurs and early birds,” that dandruff was a thing, even back during the Jurassic and Cretaceous period.

That’s right, prehistoric dinosaurs dealt with dandruff, too.

To figure this out, scientists analyzed 125-million-year-old flakes found in fossils of feathered dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period (approximately 145.5 million years ago to 66 million years ago).

Lead author of the study, Dr. Maria McNamara from University College Cork, explains to BBC News, “We were originally interested in studying the feathers, and when we were looking at the feathers, we kept finding these little white blobs, the stuff was everywhere, it was in between all the feathers.”

She goes on to say, “We started wondering if it was a biological feature like fragments of shells, or reptile skin, but it's not consistent with any of those things. The only option left was that it was fragments of the skin that were preserved, and it's identical in structure to the outer part of the skin in modern birds—what we would call dandruff.”

This was an exciting development in the study of the evolution of birds because it suggests that during the evolutionary burst in feathered dinosaurs in the Jurassic period, dandruff emerged in response to the presence of feathers.

Co-author and professor, Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol explains to BBC News that the presence of dandruff means that feathered dinosaurs are closer to modern birds than they are to reptiles. This is because they shed their skin in small fragments as opposed to whole skin layers like a modern lizard or snake.

The study does identify that one key difference between these prehistoric species and modern birds was the ability to fly. BBC News explains, “The researchers say that modern birds have very fatty dandruff cells because this helps them shed heat when they are flying. The older creatures weren't able to fly at all or were only able to get off the ground for short periods.”

This also highlights a key transition period in the evolution of birds. Dr. McNamara explains to BBC News, “So that suggests they had lower body temperatures than modern birds, almost like a transitional metabolism between a cold-blooded reptile and a warm-blooded bird.”

Image via Shutterstock

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