A flesh-eating dinosaur with horns that earned it the name ‘carnivorous bull’ has taken shape in a series of illustrations created by researchers studying fossil evidence, who also discovered it had a unique scaly skin.
The skeleton of the Carnotauru (carnivorous bull) was first discovered by Argentinian palaeontologist Jose Bonaparte in the Chubut Province of Patagonia in 1984 but was never properly examined until now.
The skeleton was found at the time with layers of fossilised ‘skin’ from the dinosaur’s shoulder, thoracic region, tail and possibly neck, making it “the first meat-eating dinosaur discovered with skin.”
The remains were later found to belong to a 1.35-tonne theropod that would have grown to between 7.5 and 9 metres (24.6 and 29.5 feet) in length, dating back an estimated 72 to 69.9 million years, to the Late Cretaceous.
Palaeontologists had failed to study the skin of the 1.35-tonne bull-dino in detail until Doctor Christophe Hendrickx from the Unidad Ejecutora Lillo in San Miguel de Tucuman, a scientific institution specialising in empirical research, started examining the remains.
Doctor Hendrickx told Newsflash: “The study is important because very little is known on the scaly skin of theropods in general and no one before had ever provided a comprehensive description of the skin of Carnotaurus.”
Hendrickx added: “By looking at the skin from the shoulders, belly and tail regions, we discovered that the skin of this dinosaur was more diverse than previously thought, consisting of large and randomly distributed conical studs surrounded by a network of small elongated, diamond-shaped or subcircular scales.”
Hendrickx worked with Doctor Phil Bell, an expert in dinosaur skin at the University of New England, in Australia, who pointed out in a statement last Friday (10th September) that the Carnotaurus is reminiscent of the thorny devil lizard found in the Australian outback.
The enormous dinosaur that lived around 72 million years ago in South America during the Late Cretaceous period is believed to have been an active predator roaming the plains of Patagonia in search of prey.
The researchers believe that that the diamond-shaped scales that littered the Carnotaurus’ skin would have been crucial in the giant’s ability to regulate its temperature, especially during hunts when it would exert huge amounts of energy to move its 1.3-tonne body.
Hendrickx said: “The study provides detailed information on the morphology of the best-preserved scaly skin in a theropod dinosaur in different body areas for the first time.”
He added: “The study also reveals the absence of feathers in Carnotaurus (and possibly other abelisaurid theropods) and the presence of large 2-6 centimetre (0.7-2.3 inch) randomly distributed conical scales covering the body.”
Hendrickx hopes that this study will set a new standard for how to describe and illustrate the skin and appearance of dinosaurs and he hopes that it will encourage others to undertake the difficult task of finding out what these creatures looked like before they went extinct 65 million years ago.
The study, titled ‘The scaly skin of the abelisaurid Carnotaurus sastrei (Theropoda: Ceratosauria) from the Upper Cretaceous of Patagonia’, was led by Dr Christophe Hendrickx and has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Cretaceous Research.
By Peter Barker