Tuesday, September 6, 2016

[Paleontology • 2016] Structure and Homology of Psittacosaurus Tail Bristles


A, the ‘beard’ of the turkey, Meleagris gallopavo (Galliformes). B, the spine on the head of the horned screamer, Anhima cornuta (Anseriformes). C, bristles on the head of the Congo peafowl, Afropavo congensis (Galliformes).

 Psittacosaurus sp. from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of China (SMF R 4970).  A, overview of specimen. B, detail of tail section with bristles. Both scale bars represent 10 cm. 
  DOI:  10.1111/pala.12257 

Abstract

We examined bristle-like appendages on the tail of the Early Cretaceous basal ceratopsian dinosaur Psittacosaurus with laser-stimulated fluorescence imaging. Our study reveals previously unknown details of these structures and confirms their identification as integumentary appendages. For the first time, we show that most bristles appear to be arranged in bundles and that they exhibit a pulp that widens towards the bristle base. We consider it likely that the psittacosaur bristles are structurally and developmentally homologous to similar filamentous appendages of other dinosaurs, namely the basal heterodontosaurid Tianyulong and the basal therizinosauroid theropod Beipiaosaurus, and attribute the greater robustness of the bristles of Psittacosaurus to a higher degree of cornification and calcification of its integument (both skin and bristles). Although the psittacosaur bristles are probably homologous with avian feathers in their origin from discrete cell populations, it is uncertain whether they developed from a follicle, one of the developmental hallmarks of true feathers. In particular, we note a striking resemblance between the psittacosaur bristles and the cornified spine on the head of the horned screamer, Anhima cornuta, an extant anseriform bird. Similar, albeit thinner keratinous filaments of extant birds are the ‘beard’ of the turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, and the crown of the Congo peafowl, Afropavo congensis. All of these structures of extant birds are distinct from true feathers, and because at least the turkey beard does not develop from follicles, detailed future studies of their development would be invaluable towards deepening our understanding of dinosaur filamentous integumentary structures.

Keywords:  ceratopsian dinosaur; feather evolution; LSF imaging; Psittacosaurus; tail bristles

Figure 4. A, the ‘beard’ of the turkey, Meleagris gallopavo (Galliformes; uncatalogued mounted specimen on display in Senckenberg Natural History Museum). B, the spine on the head of the horned screamer, Anhima cornuta (Anseriformes; uncatalogued mounted specimen on display in the Senckenberg Natural History Museum). C, bristles on the head of the Congo peafowl, Afropavo congensis (Galliformes; uncatalogued mounted specimen on display in Senckenberg Natural History Museum). D, detail of longitudinal section through the base of an Anhima spine attached to a macerated skull (SMF 2479) to show the pulp, which is infilled with dense connective tissue; the tip of this spine is broken. EF, detail of two psittacosaur bristles with pulp indicated by dashed lines in the greyscale images to the right. All scale bars represent 10 mm.

Figure 1. Psittacosaurus sp. from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of China (SMF R 4970).
A, overview of specimen. B, detail of tail section with bristles. Both scale bars represent 10 cm. 


Gerald Mayr, Michael Pittman, Evan Saitta, Thomas G. Kaye and Jakob Vinther. 2016. Structure and Homology of Psittacosaurus Tail Bristles. Palaeontology. DOI: 10.1111/pala.12257

  

Gerald Mayr, D. Stefan Peters, Gerhard Plodowski and Olaf Vogel. 2002. Bristle-like Integumentary Structures at the Tail of the Horned Dinosaur PsittacosaurusNaturwissenschaften. 89; 361–365.  DOI: 10.1007/s00114-002-0339-6


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