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Studying Dinosaur Brains Allows Us To Understand How They Operated

A team of scientists digitally reconstructed the internal soft tissues that had long since rotted away. 

A new study into the brains of two British dinosaurs has allowed scientists to understand how the creatures interacted with their surroundings.

The two dinos are from the Spinosaur family that featured in Jurassic Park III and were semi-aquatic carnivores that stalked riverbeds for food using their long, crocodile-like jaws and conical teeth.

The team scanned fossils of Baryonyx from Surrey and Ceratosuchops from the Isle of Wight, the two oldest Spinosaurs for which braincase material is known.

The huge creatures lived long before the better-known Spinosaurus and would have been roaming the planet about 125 million years ago.

Dinosaur brains: Artist’s impression of Ceratosuchops and the orientation of the endocast in the skull. ANTHONY HUTCHINGS/SWNS

The brain cases of both specimens are well preserved, and the team digitally reconstructed the internal soft tissues that had long since rotted away.

The researchers from the University of Southampton and Ohio University found the olfactory bulbs, which process smells, weren’t particularly developed.

They also discovered that its hearing and ear were probably attuned to low-frequency sounds.

Also, the parts of the brain that kept the head stable and the gaze fixed on prey were less developed than in later generations of Spinosaur.

And despite where they hunted, their brains didn’t seem to be specifically different from other large meat-eating dinosaurs.

University of Southampton Ph.D. student Chris Barker, who led the study said: “Despite their unusual ecology, it seems the brains and senses of these early Spinosaurs retained many aspects in common with other large-bodied theropods – there is no evidence that their semi-aquatic lifestyles are reflected in the way their brains are organized.”

Contributing author Dr. Darren Naish also from the University of Southampton added: “Because the skulls of all Spinosaurs are so specialized for fish-catching, it’s surprising to see such ‘non-specialised’ brains.

Skeleton of Dinosaur Troodon, a late cretaceous birdlike predator with large eyes and a relatively large brain. The brains and senses of early Spinosaurs appear to have kept many characteristics in common with other large-bodied theropods despite their peculiar habitat. ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA/UIG/GETTY IMAGES

“But the results are still significant. It’s exciting to get so much information on sensory abilities – on hearing, sense of smell, balance and so on – from British dinosaurs. Using cutting-edge technology, we basically obtained all the brain-related information we possibly could from these fossils.”

Lawrence Witmer, professor of anatomy at Ohio’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and co-author said: “This new research is just the latest in what amounts to a revolution in paleontology due to advances in CT-based imaging of fossils.

“We’re now in a position to be able to assess the cognitive and sensory capabilities of extinct animals and explore how the brain evolved in behaviorally extreme dinosaurs like Spinosaurs.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Anatomy

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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