Scientists have discovered something to crow about — that duck billed dinosaurs (hadrosaurs) were adorned with cartilaginous combs on the tops of their heads similar to those of modern-day roosters. They managed to find a duck-billed dinosaur’s mummified head that had the odd appendage intact upon it.
Some dinosaurs have many similar characteristics with birds, but the comb that was found on the head of the duck-billed one was the first of its kind ever to be documented by scientists, as it’s a part of dinosaurs that wouldn’t normally have been preserved.
The mummified Edmontosaurus regalis (duck-billed dinosaur) head was discovered in Alberta, west of Grand Prairie. About 75-65 million years ago, the species was the most common in North America.
Duck-billed dinosaurs are often thought of being mild pasture-grazers, like cows. They were relatively large, at around 12 meters long, and duck-billed dinosaurs were a prime prey item for many larger, carnivorous dinosaurs. In this respect, duck-billed dinosaurs were similar to deer and kangaroos of today, namely, a veritable smorgasbord to the carnivores that preyed upon them.
To Phil Bell from Australia’s University of New England, learning that duck-billed dinosaurs had crests or combs on the tops of their heads leaves open the intriguing possibility that there might have been “similar crests among other dinosaurs” possibly even “including T. rex or Triceratops.” Before this discovery, Bell stated, “there have been no clues to suggest they might have had a big fleshy crest.”
What was the purpose of the comb on top of the heads of duck-billed dinosaurs?
On roosters, their coxcombs are used to attract suitable mates, so there is a possibility that the combs on duck-billed dinosaurs served the same purpose, or as a show of intimidation to potential rivals, though nobody really knows for sure what purpose the combs served.
From the mummified head of the duck-billed dinosaur and other specimens, paleontologists now know that hadrosaurs had pebbly skin, resembling the skin of birds and alligators.
A colleague of Bell’s, Federico Fanti, and his team of fellow paleontologists, were the ones who discovered the mummified head of the duck-billed dinosaur. They saw a huge boulder that had a portion of the fully articulated spine of a duck-billed dinosaur sticking out of it.
According to Bell, they were going to use a rock saw to collect a part of their find. That’s when they noticed the first skin impression, and that caused the research team to reconsider their strategy. The final decision was to go ahead and take the entire specimen.
It wouldn’t be until seven months later that the paleontologists were able to return with a truck and trailer to where the mummified head of the duck-billed dinosaur was in Alberta and haul it way. That was because the Redwillow River was at a high stage. It wasn’t until 2011 that the researchers managed to collect the fossil specimen.
In the past, fossilized skin impressions were often overlooked and even destroyed. Paleontologists would destroy the skin “to get to the bones,” according to Bell. They considered the bones to be much more interesting than the skin.
The discovery of the mummified duck-billed dinosaur head with a comb like a rooster’s on it might change how we think about both duck-billed dinosaurs and all dinosaurs forever. You can read more about the findings of the researchers in the December 12, 2013, journal Current Biology, the last source listed below.
Written by: Douglas Cobb