Fleshy comb is first found on a dinosaur

Fossil head has both duck bill and soft-tissue crest

TOP UP A duck-billed Edmontosaurus had soft fleshy headgear, imagined in red and blue in this illustration.

Bell et al./Curr. Bio. 2013

A well-known duck-billed face needs to be reimagined with a dinosaur version of a chicken comb on top.

A recently unearthed skull fossil of the duck-billed dinosaur Edmontosaurus regalis has remains of a fleshy head dome, says paleontologist Phil Bell of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. It’s the first boneless crest found on any dinosaur, Bell and his colleagues report December 12 in Current Biology.

Paleontologists know of plenty of extravagant dinosaur headgear, including on other duck-billed species, but all are bony structures. Skin and soft tissue rot so fast that only extraordinary conditions preserve them.

But a fluke mummified part of the scaly skin and crest plus some bones of a nearly grown E. regalis. One of Bell’s coauthors noticed the bones nudging out of a coffin-sized boulder that had broken off cliffs by the Redwillow River in Canada.

Rivaling T. rex in size, duck-billed E. regalis were plant eaters that lived about 70 million to 65 million years ago. Bell suspects that fleshy head ornaments signaled social status or sex appeal or both.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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