If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

What was dinosaur skin like?

Reptile skin is a complex system of scales separated by flexible joints. In birds, the only living group of dinosaurs, the scales are modified into feathers, except around the feet and beak. The hind feet of extinct dinosaurs probably looked like a bird's foot, but what about the rest of their body? Rare, non-avian dinosaur "mummies" provide intriguing direct evidence. One of these is the AMNH Edmontosaurus "mummy", one of the greatest dinosaur fossils ever collected. Impressions of skin are preserved over almost the entire body. Around the base of the limbs, on the neck, and at other joints, the skin is folded, like that surrounding the joints of an elephant, presumably to allow flexibility during movement. Classroom activity: Fossilized Fashion. Created by American Museum of Natural History.

Video transcript

Most dinosaur fossils are the bones and the teeth of the animal and it's very rare when you get soft parts of the animals like skin and muscles preserved it takes a very special environmental circumstances but occasionally where you're in the right environment, that lacks oxygen for the organisms that help decomposed the soft tissues, you can get skin impressions preserved for dinosaurs and it shows that dinosaur skin was often kind of bumpy almost scaly in a sense. Our best representation of what dinosaur skin is like is take a look at living dinosaur skin. iI mean the foot on a chicken actually has scales and it appears, I think just like, what the skin of most of the non-bird dinosaurs would've looked like. So it's not tough and rough like you know most lizards or crocodile things, it's actually very soft very very pliable and very elastic