Scientists have said that dinosaurs may have had highly sensitive face that allowed them several activities such as eating and wooing potential mates. Researchers from University of Southampton in the UK said that their faces may have been much more sensitive than previously thought.
The fossilised skull of Neovenator salerii - a large carnivorous land-based dinosaur found on the Isle of Wight was studied for this research. This fossil is currently displayed in the Dinosaur Isle museum. Researchers used dvanced X-ray and 3-D imaging techniques to study the fossilised skull.
Evidence of an extremely sensitive snout of a kind which was only associated with aquatic feeders previously was found during the research. Researchers found that Neovenator may have possessed pressure receptors in the skin of its snout similar to those which allow crocodiles to forage in murky water.
However, nothing about the 125-million-year-old dinosaur suggests it was an aquatic feeder, so researchers believe it must have developed such a sensitive snout for other purposes.
The 3-D picture we built up of the inside of Neovenator’s skull was more detailed than any of us could have hoped for, revealing the most complete dinosaur neurovascular canal that we know of, researchers said.
“The canal is highly branched nearest the tip of the snout. This would have housed branches of the large trigeminal nerve which is responsible for sensation in the face and associated blood vessels,” said Chris Barker from University of Sothampton.
“This suggests that Neovenator had an extremely sensitive snout a very useful adaptation, as dinosaurs used their heads for most activities,” Barker added.
As well as being sensitive to touch, Neovenator might also have been able to receive information relating to stimuli such as pressure and temperature, which would have come in useful for many activities from stroking each other’s faces during courtship rituals to precision feeding.
Images of the wear pattern on the dinosaur’s teeth appear to show that it actively avoided bone while removing flesh from bones.
“Some modern-day species, such as crocodilians and megapode birds, use their snout to measure nest temperature, and in the case of crocodiles even pick up their young with extreme care, despite their huge mouths. Neovenator might well have done the same,” Barker said.
Having such a sensitive snout could have had a social use too.
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“Many birds - which are the descendants of dinosaurs use their beaks in social display, and there is plenty of evidence that carnivorous dinosaurs engaged in face-biting among themselves, perhaps targeting the sensitivity of the face to make a point,” Barker added.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.