The Oldest Case of Dandruff Ever is Found on a 125 Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Fossil

Friday, 25 May 2018 - 7:44PM
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Friday, 25 May 2018 - 7:44PM
The Oldest Case of Dandruff Ever is Found on a 125 Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Fossil
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If you've ever struggled with dandruff, know that you're not alone. Dinosaurs had it, too.

The oldest known case of dandruff now dates back to 125 million years ago, toward the beginning of the Cretaceous Period, according to a new examination of a microraptor fossil. Researchers at University College Cork in Ireland found traces of fossilized skin flakes on the fossil, as well as on two other feathered dinosaur fossils (beipiaosaurus and sinornithosaurus).

Microraptors are small, crow-sized dinosaurs known for having wings on all four of their legs, although they're not counted among the "avialan" dinosaurs which are considered the closest ancestors of modern birds. Even still, the microraptor is remarkably bird-like.



That's because this "dandruff" isn't just an unfortunate scalp condition like the human kind, it's an tool for shedding skin similar to modern birds. Whereas reptiles shed skin all at once, birds will shed skin in tiny flakes at a time to account for all the feathers and plumage.

So it's a fascinating discovery to find that this far back, feathered dinosaurs were shedding skin the same way. Feathers were likely a recent evolutionary trait at this stage in the microraptor's history, but it adapted quickly to deal with that, and the researchers suspect that other feathered dinosaurs may have started shedding "dandruff" as early as the Jurassic Period. 

But if so, we haven't found it yet, because even this well-preserved dandruff was difficult to spot. It took an electron microscope to spot the "corneocyte" flakes which are mostly made of keratin (which is a protein found in feathers, horns, claws, hooves, and human hair and skin). According to Maria McNamara, one of the lead authors on the new research, who said the following to The Guardian:

Opening quote
"This is the only fossil dandruff known. Until now we've had no evidence for how dinosaurs shed their skin. Even though they are in the early stages of feather evolution, they have already adapted their skin to this more modern structure."
Closing quote


In that sense, dandruff was pretty positive for the ancient dinosaur, like many ancient and modern animals with feathers. Unlike we flaky humans, who need special shampoos just to deal with the stuff.
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