Carnotaurus has seen something of a resurgence in popularity recently. After having bypassed the T-Rex as the primary antagonist of Disney’s animated film Dinosaur in 2000, Carnotaurus kind of faded in the public consciousness.
That’s beginning to change.
Not only has the Carnotaurus made prominent appearances in popular media like the Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous series and the Dinny & Smallstack book series, but its fossils have taken center-stage in the classic debate over whether dinosaurs had feathers or not.
There seem to be two camps of people when it comes to this debate: those who resist believing that any dinosaurs had feathers lest it somehow ruin their childhood image of the beasts, and those who insist that every dinosaur on the planet was essentially a giant chicken with feathers covering it head to toe.
Obviously, such dogmatic and extreme views on the topic are debased from reality. The truth is much more nuanced.
The basic rule of thumb is this: some dinosaurs were feathered, and some were not. And, generally speaking, the smaller the dinosaur the more likely it had feathers. So velociraptors were almost unquestionably covered in feathers. However, feathers were likely not a common feature of larger dinosaurs.
There are various reasons for this – lack of necessity and body heat regulation being two big reasons – but nonetheless arguing over which dinosaurs were feathered and which ones were not has become something of a national pastime for those within dinosaur-loving communities.
But the previously mentioned Carnotaurus may have settled the debate once and for all.
In Patagonia, remarkably well-preserved fossils of the Carnotaurus were discovered in 1984. Surprisingly, those fossilized remains contained something exceedingly rare in paleontology: skin.
That’s right, researchers actually have access to real fossilized dinosaur skin. We don’t have to make wild guesses about what the skin looked like, or whether the dinosaur in questions had feathers, scales, or fur. We can simply examine the skin of a real Carnotaurus.
And what does the skin reveal? Well, for starters the Carnotaurus was not feathered. Following the general rule of thumb, based on its fossilized skin that was found, we can conclude that much. Carnotaurus can now officially join the ranks of other large theropods that have been determined to be scaly rather than feathered.
Dr. Christophe Hendrickx from Unidad Ejecutora Lillo and Dr. Phil Bell of the University of New England in Australia have both analyzed and written extensively about Carnotaurus skin in Cretaceous Research.
“By looking at the skin from the shoulders, belly and tail regions, we discovered that the skin of this dinosaur was more diverse than previously thought, consisting of large and randomly distributed conical studs surrounded by a network of small elongated, diamond-shaped or subcircular scales,” Hendrickx stated.
Meanwhile, Dr. Bell noted that the skin shares some similarities with the Thorny Devil lizard native to Australia.
Both researchers believe the skin may not have been solely protective, but may have also “played a vital role in thermoregulation”.
Measuring in at 26 feet (8 meters) in length, Carnotaurus was potentially the biggest meat-eater in its habitat, and most likely didn’t need the scales to defend itself against predators (although skirmishes within its own species aren’t out of the question). As for its iconic set of bull-like horns, they are believed to have been used in mating rituals such as battles between males.