More Tarbosaurus skin – or is it Saurolophus?

Tarbosaurus skin

A photo of a supposed “Tarbosaurus” skin impression, from Young (2011).

In a previous post, I revealed the origin of rumors about throat skin from Tarbosaurus. It turns out that there is another alleged specimen featured in a book but not in the scientific literature. The above photo, only captioned as “Fossilized tarbosaur [sic] skin”, was published in Dino Gangs (Young, 2011). There is no information in the text on what locality it is from, when it was discovered, or if it was collected. There is also no information on what part of the body it is from, but some online sources have identified it as a thoracic impression without explanation (e.g., Ballze, 2018). However, the polygonal basement scales (~1 cm diameter) and polygonal feature scales (~2 cm diameter) do not match the pebbly basement scales (~2 mm diameter) and lack of feature scales in confirmed Tarbosaurus skin impressions (Currie et al., 2003; Bell et al., 2017b).

Instead, I noticed that this specimen has a striking resemblance to Saurolophus angustirostris skin from the Dragon’s Tomb locality in Mongolia (Bell, 2012). The sizes and shapes of the basement and feature scales are almost identical between the two as seen in the comparison below. While not impossible that Tarbosaurus had superficially Saurolophus-like scales in areas of the body where skin is currently unknown, this would contradict impressions from other tyrannosaurs. None of the four other genera with preserved skin (Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Gorgosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus) have scales that exceed 7 mm in diameter (Bell et al., 2017a; 2017b). In the absence of further evidence, it is safest to refer the specimen figured in Young (2011) to Saurolophus and not Tarbosaurus.

Tarbosaurus skin comparison

Comparison between the “Tarbosaurus” skin (left) and Saurolophus skin (right), modified from Young (2011) and Bell (2012) respectively. The scalebar in the latter is 1 cm.

Addendum (1/7/2022)

Hendrickx et al. (2022) concur with my identification of this specimen as a hadrosaur.

“In his book Dino Gangs: Dr. Philip J. Currie’s New Science of Dinosaurs, Young (2011) illustrates a picture of a beautifully preserved skin impression attributed to Tarbosaurus in the caption. […] In addition, the skin morphology, particularly the presence of large polygonal feature scales and comparatively large polygonal basement scales, strongly suggests that it is not from a theropod dinosaur but probably from a hadrosaurid.”

References

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