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Curr Biol. 2014 Jan 6;24(1):70-75. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.008. Epub 2013 Dec 12.

A mummified duck-billed dinosaur with a soft-tissue cock's comb.

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Department of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia. Electronic address:
Dipartimento di Scienze Biologiche, Geologiche e Ambientali and Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini, Alma Mater Studiorum, Università di Bologna, 40126 Bologna, Italy.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada.


Among living vertebrates, soft tissues are responsible for labile appendages (combs, wattles, proboscides) that are critical for activities ranging from locomotion to sexual display [1]. However, soft tissues rarely fossilize, and such soft-tissue appendages are unknown for many extinct taxa, including dinosaurs. Here we report a remarkable "mummified" specimen of the hadrosaurid dinosaur Edmontosaurus regalis from the latest Cretaceous Wapiti Formation, Alberta, Canada, that preserves a three-dimensional cranial crest (or "comb") composed entirely of soft tissue. Previously, crest function has centered on the hypertrophied nasal passages of lambeosaurine hadrosaurids, which acted as resonance chambers during vocalization [2-4]. The fleshy comb in Edmontosaurus necessitates an alternative explanation most likely related to either social signaling or sexual selection [5-7]. This discovery provides the first view of bizarre, soft-tissue signaling structures in a dinosaur and provides additional evidence for social behavior. Crest evolution within Hadrosaurinae apparently culminated in the secondary loss of the bony crest at the terminal Cretaceous; however, the new specimen indicates that cranial ornamentation was in fact not lost but substituted in Edmontosaurus by a fleshy display structure. It also implies that visual display played a key role in the evolution of hadrosaurine crests and raises the possibility of similar soft-tissue structures among other dinosaurs.

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