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Breaking Down the Skin Coverings Among Different Kinds of Dinosaurs

One mystery that continues to intrigue paleontologists is – what did dinosaurs look like... and were they covered in? feathers or scales? Recent fossil evidence has dramatically changed theories on dinosaur skin coverings and appearances. In this blog, we analyze integument differences across different kinds of dinosaurs.

The Feathered Dinosaurs of China

The discovery of feathered dinosaurs in China during the 1990s upended traditional perceptions of dinosaurs being giant scaly reptiles. Spectacular fossils like Sinosauropteryx revealed an early cousin of Velociraptor covered in primitive feathers called protofeathers. Since then, over 50 dinosaur species sporting plumage have been found across China and Germany. 

These include giant tyrannosaurs like Yutyrannus and Dilong suggesting even later carnivorous dinosaurs had feathery coats. Plant-eaters weren’t far behind with numerous feathered herbivores identified from sites like the Jehol beds. The most iconic find being Psittacosaurus, displaying a bristly upright mane running down its tail.

Scaly Sauropods and Armored Dinosaurs 

However, fossil evidence shows featherings were not universal across dinosaurs. The giant long-necked sauropods like Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus were simply too large to sport feathers, which would serve no functional purpose. Instead, fossils reveal these dinosaurs had tough, protective, scaly skin, sometimes with bony osteoderms underneath. 

Tank-like ankylosaurs and stegosaurs from the Cretaceous also had reinforced scale armor in the form of osteodermal plates and spikes to guard against giant predator attacks. Fossil sites show scales were dominant coverings among the large herbivorous families.

Why Did Some Dinosaurs Have Feathers While Others Had Scales?

Paleontologists conclude that small-sized dinosaurs - both carnivorous and herbivorous - evolved primitive feathers as effective insulation to regulate body temperatures. However, the largest dinosaur giants had little need for heat insulation thanks to thermal inertia and relied on tough, scaly hide for protection instead.

So broadly, featherings are associated more with smaller theropods and ornithischians while scales typified the big armored tanks. But the discovery of Yutyrannus – a giant feathered tyrannosaur – shows there are still plenty of surprises in the fascinating world of dinosaur integument.

Owning Genuine Dinosaur Fossils

Beyond academic insights, verified dinosaur fossils offer collectors a chance to own exciting pieces of natural history. Everything from fossilized bones, teeth, and eggs to coprolites and skin impressions make prized specimens. When buying dinosaur fossils from dealers, be sure to vet seller credibility, verify provenance documentation, inspect items physically before purchasing, and get multiple opinions from experts.

Apply similar authentication best practices when expanding your prehistoric collection with other types of fossils like trilobites, ammonites, leaf fossils, etc. By staying vigilant, you can avoid the pitfalls of fake or composited fossils flooding the market.

We hope this breakdown has shed light on the continuum of feathered vs scaly dinosaurs that once dominated primeval landscapes. Make sure to check back as we continue covering exciting developments across different types of dinosaurs and different types of fossils in paleontology.

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