Published: 16th December 2020
New research by University of Bristol unveils quirky insights about dinosaur's brain, eating habits
The researchers also discovered that the brain cast even showed the detail of the floccular lobes, located at the back of the dinosaur's brain, which is important for balance
A research led by the University of Bristol has unveiled the possible diet of dinosaurs claiming that pioneering reconstruction of the brain may have been the reason for their ability to move fast.
To shed light on the unexpected facts, the study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, used advanced imaging and 3-D modelling techniques to digitally rebuild the brain of 'Thecodontosaurus', better known as the 'Bristol Dinosaur' due to its origins in the UK city. The palaeontologists found 'The Thecodontosaurus' may have eaten meat, unlike its giant long-necked later relatives including 'Diplodocus' and 'Brontosaurus', which only fed on plants.
Antonio Ballell, the lead author of the study published today in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, said, "Our analysis of Thecodontosaurus' brain uncovered many fascinating features, some of which were quite surprising. Whereas its later relatives moved around ponderously on all fours, our findings suggest this species may have walked on two legs and been occasionally carnivorous."
'Thecodontosaurus', who lived in the late Triassic age some 205 million years ago, was the size of a large dog. Its fossils were discovered in the 1800s, and 3-D models were generated from CT scans by digitally extracting the bone from the rock, identifying anatomical details about its brain and inner ear.
"Even though the actual brain is long gone, the software allows us to recreate the brain and inner ear shape via the dimensions of the cavities left behind. The braincase of Thecodontosaurus is beautifully preserved so we compared it to other dinosaurs, identifying common features and some that are specific to Thecodontosaurus," Antonio said.
The researchers also discovered that the brain cast even showed the detail of the floccular lobes, located at the back of the dinosaur's brain, which is important for balance. "This structure is also associated with the control of balance and eye and neck movements, suggesting Thecodontosaurus was relatively agile and could keep a stable gaze while moving fast," added Antonio.
Although Thecodontosaurus is known for being relatively small and agile, its diet has been debated.
Antonio, a PhD student at the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, said: "Our analysis showed parts of the brain associated with keeping the head stable and eyes and gaze steady during movement were well-developed. This could also mean Thecodontosaurus could occasionally catch prey, although its tooth morphology suggests plants were the main component of its diet. It's possible it adopted omnivorous habits."
The researchers were also able to reconstruct the inner ears, allowing them to estimate how well it could hear compared to other dinosaurs. Its hearing frequency was relatively high, pointing towards some sort of social complexity - an ability to recognise varied squeaks and honks from different animals.
Professor Mike Benton, the study co-author, said, "It's great to see how new technologies are allowing us to find out even more about how this little dinosaur lived more than 200 million years ago."
The study on Thecodontosaurus was started in 1990, since then, according to the researchers, they're very fortunate to have so many well-preserved fossils of such an important dinosaur in Bristol which helped the team to understand many aspects of the biology of the dinosaur.