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Foot scales in the Early Cretaceous bird Gansus yumenensis from China

By Tao Zhao, Zhiheng LI, He Zhang, Yanhong Pan

Posted 08 Jun 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.06.07.447457

Most modern birds have scales covering the foot and feathers elsewhere. Discoveries of fossil feathers attached to the metatarsus in non-avian dinosaurs and basal birds suggests that the avian scales are secondarily derived from feathers. However, our knowledge of early avian scales and their taphonomy is still limited, due to the scarcity of fossil record. Here we employ multiple techniques to characterize the morphological and chemical details preserved and investigate how they are preserved in the skin of IVPP V15077, a referred specimen of the Early Cretaceous Gansus yumenensis. Results show that two types of scales, scutellate and interstitial scales, are preserved in IVPP V15077, which, in combination with previous discovery of scutate and reticulate scales in other Early Cretaceous birds, indicates that all four types of scales present in modern birds have appeared in the Early Cretaceous. SEM observations and Raman analysis suggest that the skin of Gansus yumenensis may be pigmented. Elemental mapping indicates that aluminosilicates and calcium phosphate are involved in the mineralization of the skin.

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