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Stocky Sue, Sans Feathers

By Osmatar
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Did Tyrannosaurus rex have feathers? The answer may surprise you!

The answer is: WE DON'T KNOW! Surprised? You shouldn't be. We only have a few small patches of tyrannosaurid skin from different parts of the body described so far (Bell et al. 2017), and we don't really know much about the interplay of feathers and scales (or reticulae, if you want to get into specifics) in coelurosaurian theropods. While there are good reasons to believe some feathers were present on Tyrannosaurus, the possibility remains that it had, for whatever reason, completely given up feathers the same way large ornithopods seem to have done. 

However, you can't just simply replace all the feathers on old rexy and be done with it. Tyrannosaurus persisted in a climate with a mean annual temperature of about 11 °C,  which means it had to periodically deal with some unpleasantly cool temperatures for an uninsulated animal. How could scaly Sue survive in such an environment? The answer could be by getting fat. An insulating layer of blubber lets marine mammals to do without hair and appears to have enabled sauropterygians to thrive in frigid waters. Perhaps the scaly tyrannosaurids of yesteryear's paleoart aren't that inaccurate, they're just way too thin!

This illustration aims to portray Tyrannosaurus rex (based on the Sue specimen, from a skeletal drawing by ScottHartman) the way it might have looked if it lacked feathers entirely (there are still some short quill-like highly modified ones left on the neck and arms, perhaps for display purposes or to discourage biting). Of course in the case of Tyrannosaurus, the scales are probably modified feather as well. The small patches of skin from Tyrannosaurus specimens show that the scales were so small, you'd have to get very close to the animal to actually see them. The "lumpy" look of Sue's face is based on Carr et al. (2017), who mention correlates for armor-like skin on several parts of the skull in Daspletosaurus, a close relative and possibly even a direct ancestor of Tyrannosaurus. Though very plump, Sue still has some loose skin folds around the neck and torso, as these regions need to be able to stretch to allow the swallowing of large food items and to engorge on a kill, that would presumably produce an even more rotund creature (while the meal is being digested anyway). 

Sources/Further reading:
Bell et al. (2017) Tyrannosauroid integument reveals conflicting patterns of gigantism and feather evolution
Carr et al. (2017) A new tyrannosaur with evidence for anagenesis and crocodile-like facial sensory system
Arens and Allen (2014) A florule from the base of the Hell Creek Formation in the type area of eastern Montana: Implications for vegetation and climate

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© 2017 - 2021 Osmatar
anonymous's avatar
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equigoyle's avatar
krispikreme21's avatar
I wonder how much gigantothermy would've helped during colder seasons.
VeryCuteOne's avatar
Cool one, I prefer feathered ones more, but this one looks cool.
carcharsauce's avatar
Why does it have lips? The recent evidence disproves the likelihood of lips on theropods
Pendragon276's avatar
No it doesn’t my dude.....to claim such a thing would implicate a fundamental misunderstanding on what we know about extra oral tissue in Dinosauria. For most theropods and saurischians in general they possess pleurodont teeth like squamates meaning that in contrast to reptiles who have thecodont teeth (Spinosaurids, plesiosaurs , crocodilians) they have long roots indicating to us the teeth are essentially fully/mostly concealed inside the jaw, this also accounts for gum tissue as well naturally.
carcharsauce's avatar
if i remember correctly, all theropods have thecodont teeth
Pendragon276's avatar
No they don’t Most theropods have pleurodont/subthecodont teeth (its an "In between " of thecodoncy and pleurodoncy). The only theropods adapted to be lipless are beaked toothless birds, other beaked theropods like Galli, Oviraptor, Caudipteryx and in toothed theropods the Spinosauridae which are able to fully close the jaws shut, and have fitting jaws so the palate isn't exposed. Pleurondont and sub thecodont dentition is a trait that requires lips/more extensive gum tissue to hold them in place while animals who are more deeply thecodont like crocodilians , plesiosaurs and spinosaurs do not.
Philoceratops's avatar
It's pretty unsure at the moment whether they had them or not, so it's subjective.
Commanderblush's avatar
This is my favorite depiction of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Very well done!!
Khandle's avatar

Yes, thank you. This is the correct answer. At the moment, they could be either.
Also, hadn't heard about that blubbery possibility before. Cool, and cute. Sot of like the really old, pot-bellied plastic Marks T. Rex toy, not the posture or tail dragging, of course:
Inkalill's avatar
Interesting, rhinoceros skin can be up to 5 cm thick, a dinosaur could surely match that. Thank you for information, and for the great image!
Blomman87's avatar
 What do you mean we only have some small patches there is atleast 14 patches of tyrannosaurid surface imprint and one of them is in size of 4,72 inches.    And recent discovery made by Scott Persons  shows another tyrannosaurid scaly patch 11 cm.
The osteological evidence suggests that tyrannosaurids bore flat scales, armor-like skin, and keratin sheaths on the face, whereas the fossil evidence shows that the rest of the body was covered in small scales. Ancestrally, tyrannosauroids were feathery; the loss of feathers occurred somewhere along the line between Dilong and the common ancestor of tyrannosaurids that is what the fossil records telling us as we speak.   

Do we not use the fossil record as evidence or do we make conclusions by imaginations?    The null hypothetis is established atleast.
Batterymaster's avatar
Sue's a stripper, and this is how she looks when she's on the job.
william023's avatar
She really reminds me of that roaring sideshow model.
Libra1010's avatar
 Now that's what I call a Queen of the Cretaceous!:happybounce: 
FrancisMoncayo1991's avatar
Love it, may I suggest to include a scale on it?
Osmatar's avatar
Thanks, but what do you mean by scale?
JPGuchiha's avatar
Is there any evidence that shows, with out a doubt, an adult T-rex had feathers?
Osmatar's avatar
No. Nor do we have that evidence of Tyrannosaurs rex. ;)

Seriously though, the sites that preserve Tyrannosaurus aren't known to preserve feathers, so even if they were present, we probably wouldn't be able to tell. This could turn out to be false in the future, but right now the best tyrannosaurid candidates for preserving feathers are Daspletosaurus and Gorgosaurus, known from the same sites as the feathered Ornithomimus fossils.
9Weegee's avatar
well Yutyrannus and Dilong seem to disprove the idea of a scaly rex, plus the scale impressions were very small and far between.

I should also note that Elephants are not a good comparison when comparing to Tyrannosaurus because feathers are a very different thing from fur, and Yutyrannus seemed to be identical to the ones found on Emus; animals that do not need shade to cool off, but their feathers can...somehow. so no, the scaly movie monster Tyrannosaurus is gone. sorry!
Osmatar's avatar
Yutyrannus does not disprove a mostly featherless Tyrannosaurus any more than mammoths disprove mostly hairless African elephants. You have to rely on data from Tyrannosauroids to be sure. We also can't use modern ratites as direct analogues because they don't live in the Maastrichtian climate, they don't have Tyrannosauroid metabolisms, we don't know for sure their feathers are structurally the same as Tyrannosaur feathers and most importantly, they are tiny and lanky compared to Tyrannosauroids. Even in modern birds, which are comparatively diminutive, partial or complete loss of feathers in certain regions like the head and neck and the feet is common in warmer climates. The more volume an animal has in relation to its surface area, the more effort it takes for it to cool down.
viktorangel1's avatar
Also mammoths and elephants are more related than t.rex and yutyrannus, elephant and mammoth belong to the same family. 
JPGuchiha's avatar
"No. Nor do we have that evidence of Tyrannosaurs rex." What do you mean by that? Was that a joke?
anonymous's avatar
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