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Dec 13, 2013 07:44 AM EST

Duck-billed Dinosaurs Had Fleshy Head Gear Similar to Rooster’s Combs, Study

This is an Edmontosaurus regalis reconstruction.
(Photo : Bell, Fanti, Currie, Arbour, Current Biology) This is an Edmontosaurus regalis reconstruction.

Duck-billed dinosaurs and roosters share something in common; at least that's what a group of international researchers say.

Phil Bell from Australia's University of New England and Federico Fanti from the University of Bologna in Italy said that Edmontosaurus regalis, one of the species of duck-billed dinosaurs, had a fleshy comb, similar to the red crest that adorns the head of roosters.

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"Until now, there has been no evidence for bizarre soft-tissue display structures among dinosaurs; these findings dramatically alter our perception of the appearance and behaviour of this well-known dinosaur and allow us to comment on the evolution of head crests in this group," Bell said in a press release. "It also raises the thought-provoking possibility of similar crests among other dinosaurs."

The revelation is based on the recent discovery of a rare, mummified specimen of Edmontosaurus regalis in rock deposits near Grande Prairie in Alberta, Canada. The specimen showed evidence of the head crest being fleshy and soft. Based on the chemical composition, the crest was most likely a shade of red.

This disclosure contradicts previous theories that claimed that duck-billed dinosaur head crests were solid and probably bony.

"An elephant's trunk or a rooster's crest might never fossilize because there's no bone in them," Bell said. "This is equivalent to discovering for the first time that elephants had trunks. We have lots of skulls of Edmontosaurus, but there are no clues on them that suggest they might have had a big fleshy crest. There's no reason that other strange fleshy structures couldn't have been present on a whole range of other dinosaurs, including T. rex or Triceratops."

Edmontosaurus regalis and other duck-billed dinosaurs, also known as 'gentle giants' were prevalent in North America between 65 and 75 million years ago and grew to about 12 meters long.

Since all the known species of duck-billed dinosaurs have been found to be related, the researchers assume the fleshy head crests were widespread across all of them.

Normally, the bright red crests in roosters and other birds are used to attract potential mates and dissuade rivals. The researchers believe that the fleshy comb in duck-billed dinosaurs might have performed a similar function.

"We might imagine a pair of male Edmontosaurus sizing each other up, bellowing, and showing off their head gear to see who was the dominant male and who is in charge of the herd," said Bell.

The finding has been published in the Dec. 12, 2013, edition of the journal Current Biology.

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