Morphology and distribution of scales, dermal ossifications, and other non-feather integumentary structures in non-avialan theropod dinosaurs

Christophe Hendrickx, Phil R. Bell, Michael Pittman, Andrew R. C. Milner, Elena Cuesta, Jingmai O'Connor, Mark Loewen, Philip J. Currie, Octávio Mateus, Thomas G. Kaye, Rafael Delcourt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Modern birds are typified by the presence of feathers, complex evolutionary innovations that were already widespread in the group of theropod dinosaurs (Maniraptoriformes) that include crown Aves. Squamous or scaly reptilian-like skin is, however, considered the plesiomorphic condition for theropods and dinosaurs more broadly. Here, we review the morphology and distribution of non-feathered integumentary structures in non-avialan theropods, covering squamous skin and naked skin as well as dermal ossifications. The integumentary record of non-averostran theropods is limited to tracks, which ubiquitously show a covering of tiny reticulate scales on the plantar surface of the pes. This is consistent also with younger averostran body fossils, which confirm an arthral arrangement of the digital pads. Among averostrans, squamous skin is confirmed in Ceratosauria (Carnotaurus), Allosauroidea (Allosaurus, Concavenator, Lourinhanosaurus), Compsognathidae (Juravenator), and Tyrannosauroidea (Santanaraptor, Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Tarbosaurus, Tyrannosaurus), whereas dermal ossifications consisting of sagittate and mosaic osteoderms are restricted to Ceratosaurus. Naked, non-scale bearing skin is found in the contentious tetanuran Sciurumimus, ornithomimosaurians (Ornithomimus) and possibly tyrannosauroids (Santanaraptor), and also on the patagia of scansoriopterygids (Ambopteryx, Yi). Scales are surprisingly conservative among non-avialan theropods compared to some dinosaurian groups (e.g. hadrosaurids); however, the limited preservation of tegument on most specimens hinders further interrogation. Scale patterns vary among and/or within body regions in Carnotaurus, Concavenator and Juravenator, and include polarised, snake-like ventral scales on the tail of the latter two genera. Unusual but more uniformly distributed patterning also occurs in Tyrannosaurus, whereas feature scales are present only in Albertosaurus and Carnotaurus. Few theropods currently show compelling evidence for the co-occurrence of scales and feathers (e.g. Juravenator, Sinornithosaurus), although reticulate scales were probably retained on the mani and pedes of many theropods with a heavy plumage. Feathers and filamentous structures appear to have replaced widespread scaly integuments in maniraptorans. Theropod skin, and that of dinosaurs more broadly, remains a virtually untapped area of study and the appropriation of commonly used techniques in other palaeontological fields to the study of skin holds great promise for future insights into the biology, taphonomy and relationships of these extinct animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)960-1004
Number of pages45
JournalBiological Reviews
Volume97
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

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