EGU Blogs

CT scanning

Your bite or mine?

It rises from the dark waters like some behemoth from the deep, and lets out a blood-curdling roar. It’s feeding time. One of the most iconic scenes from Jurassic Park III is where the long-snouted, sail-backed giant theropod dinosaur Spinosaurus emerges from underwater to try, yet again, to eat our beleaguered rabble of misfortunates. It’s always been the way these dinosaurs have been portrayed, including one of Spinosaurus’ close cousins Baryonyx from the UK. With their long snouts, bulbous tips, and pointy teeth, it’s often been thought that spinosaurid dinosaurs were quite a lot like modern crocodiles. But how much of this is true?

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Erlikosaurus, the little dinosaur experiment

The evolutionary line from theropod dinosaurs is absolute. There is no question that this is one of the greatest stories that life on Earth has ever told us, But evolution is not linear; it’s chaotic. It’s bizarre. Along this theropod line, dinosaurs were experimenting – they were the evolutionary scientists of their time.

One of the weirdest things that theropods did was become herbivores again – this is exceptionally odd when we consider that they’re the cousins of epic carnivores like Tyrannosaurus and Deinonychus.

Therizinosaurs were one of these groups of hipster dinosaurs. Not content with a life dining on raw steak, they actually estranged themselves and became ecological innovators, eventually turning herbivorous.

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Peering into dinosaur skulls – the best application for medical technology

Most of what we know about dinosaurs comes from their skeletal remains. Rarely, we get tiny glimpses into their soft tissue anatomy through skin impressions and even rarer, preserved tissue fragments, mummified over time, and their ecology and life habits through combining interpretation of this from what we can glean from trace fossils (footprints, poop, etc.). Palaeontologists are also taking the first steps to digitally reconstructing their muscular systems through looking at muscle attachment points on bones and comparing this with their living archosaur relatives, crocodiles and birds. But what if we could actually peer inside their skulls to look at their brains? Brains, unsurprisingly, are not preserved in the fossil record. This is due to two, equally scientifically valid points – brains are nutritious, and when a dinosaur dies, their brains are usually scavenged by other carnivores so that they can assimilate the brain-host’s knowledge (and their hearts, for courage)*, and secondly, soft tissue does not readily preserve under normal taphonomic conditions, and only exceptionally rarely under the right conditions, which are typically deep marine anoxic environments (not something any known dinosaur is yet known to have inhabited).

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