Eating Habits Of Dinosaurs Revealed
July 17, 2012

Eating Habits Of Dinosaurs Revealed

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A great number of hypotheses have been suggested on feeding behavior of Diplodocus - thought to be one of the largest dinosaurs ever since its discovery over 130 years ago. These range between standard biting, combing leaves through peg-like teeth, ripping bark from trees similar to behavior in some living deer, and even grabbing shellfish from rocks.

A team of international researchers, led by the University of Bristol and the Natural History Museum, used CT scans and biomechanical modeling to show that Diplodocus had a skull adapted to strip leaves from tree branches.

The research was published on July 16, 2012 in the international natural sciences journal, Naturwissenschaften.

The team found that whilst bark-stripping was perhaps unsurprisingly too stressful for the teeth, combing and raking of leaves from branches was overall no more stressful to the skull bones and teeth than standard biting.

The Diplodocus is a sauropod from the Jurassic Period and one of the longest animals to have lived on Earth, measuring over 30 meters in length and weighing around 15 tons.  While known to be massive herbivores, there has been great debate about exactly how they ate such large quantities of plants. The aberrant Diplodocus, with its long snout and protruding peg-like teeth restricted to the very front of its mouth, has been the center of such controversy.

According to a university statement: "To solve the mystery, a 3D model of a complete Diplodocus skull was created using data from a CT scan. This model was then biomechanically analyzed to test three feeding behaviors using finite element analysis (FEA). FEA is widely used, from designing airplanes to orthopedic implants. It revealed the various stresses and strains acting on the Diplodocus´ skull during feeding to determine whether the skull or teeth would break under certain conditions."

The team that made this discovery was led by Dr Emily Rayfield of Bristol University´s School of Earth Sciences and Dr Paul Barrett of The Natural History Museum in London. Dr Mark Young, a former student working at both institutions, ran the analyses during his PhD.

Dr Young said: “Sauropod dinosaurs, like Diplodocus, were so weird and different from living animals that there is no animal we can compare them with. This makes understanding their feeding ecology very difficult. That´s why biomechanically modeling is so important to our understanding of long-extinct animals.”

Dr Paul Barrett added: "Using these techniques, borrowed from the worlds of engineering and medicine, we can start to examine the feeding behavior of this long-extinct animal in levels of detail which were simply impossible until recently.”