"Dinosaur Mummy" Has Skin Like Birds' and Crocodiles'

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That's just like skin of modern birds and reptiles, which scientists believe are closely related to duckbilled dinosaurs.

Protein-recovery techniques used on the skin and a claw detected amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Proteins themselves, complex molecules that degrade easily over time, were not found, however.

(Related: "Oldest Dinosaur Protein Found—Blood Vessels, More.")

But Manning did identify molecules that would have broken down proteins in Dakota's body.

That's like finding fragments of a broken vase instead of the intact vase, explained Thomas R. Holtz Jr., a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland.

"What's really nice" about the new research is this protein-recovery strategy. It's the first time the skin of such a big plant-eating dinosaur has been analyzed so deeply, said Holtz, who was not involved in the research.

That Dakota's skin resembles modern vertebrate skin is not surprising but nonetheless "comforting," Holtz added.

Beyond Bones

Understanding the exact environments that froze Dakota in time may help paleontologists better target future fossil hunts, lead study author Manning said.

"Who knows? The elusive dinosaur mummies of the fossil record might be more common," added Manning, also the author of the new book Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: Soft Tissues and Hard Science.

There's even a chance that scientists could find a Tyrannosaurus rex—a major predator of duckbilled dinosaurs—in the same area, the University of Maryland's Holtz added.

The new discovery shows "that there is a lot more to paleontology than just looking at interesting skeletons," Holtz said.

If you're limited to bones, "you lose a lot of what you can find out about ancient creatures."

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