Washington: Researchers have discovered the eating habits of a giant, herbivorous sauropod dinosaur from the Jurassic period using a three-dimensional model of the animal’s skull.
The eating habits of Diplodocus, which lived around 150 million years ago, have been uncertain since its discovery more than 130 years ago. Understanding these behaviours could help scientists better understand extinct and modern ecosystems and what it takes to feed these giant herbivores, as well as today’s living animals.
The herbivore was the longest animal ever to walk the planet. It was more than 170 feet long and weighed more than 12 tons and its neck was about 20 feet in length.
The team include researchers from the University of Bristol, Natural History Museum of London, the University of Missouri and Ohio University.
“Since Diplodocus was such a huge animal, its eating habits and behaviour have always been a question in the paleontology community,” said Casey Holliday, an assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at MU.
“With the 3D model of the skull, we were able to simulate three eating scenarios using a computer-based analysis to determine the stresses that the skull would experience in each situation,” said Holliday.
Using data from a CT scan, the team of researchers designed a three-dimensional model of the 2.5-foot-long Diplodocus’ skull and tested it using finite element analysis (FEA). FEA, which is commonly used to aid in mechanical engineering and design, revealed the stresses on the dinosaur skull from three different eating behaviours: a normal bite, “branch stripping” and “bark stripping”
“Originally, some scientists in the early 1900s thought that Diplodocus would strip bark off of trees using its jaws to close down on the bark,” Holliday said.
“However, we found that this process places a lot of stress and strain on the dinosaur’s teeth and skull, which could result in bone damage or breaking of teeth. The model and the scans showed that branch stripping, which is when the dinosaur would place its mouth on a branch and pull all the leaves off the branch, placed little to or no stress on the teeth and skull,” the researcher explained.
While the feeding habits of the Diplodocus have largely been resolved, the behaviours of other extinct animals also could be tested using FEA.
The study was published in Naturwissenschaften, a natural sciences journal.
First Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 14:32