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Super-sized muscle made twin-horned dinosaur a speedster

A meat-eating dinosaur that terrorized its plant-eating neighbours in South America was a lot deadlier than first thought, a University of Alberta researcher has found.

Carnotaurus was a seven-metre-long predator with a huge tail muscle that U of A paleontology graduate student Scott Persons says made it one of the fastest running hunters of its time.

A close examination of the tail bones of Carnotaurus showed its caudofemoralis muscle had a tendon that attached to its upper leg bones. Flexing this muscle pulled the legs backwards and gave Carnotaurus more power and speed in every step.

In earlier research, Persons found a similar tail-muscle and leg-power combination in the iconic predator Tyrannosaurus rex. Up until Persons published that paper, many dinosaur researchers thought T. rex's huge tail might have simply served as a teeter-totter-like counterweight to its huge, heavy head.

Persons' examination of the tail of Carnotaurus showed that along its length were pairs of tall rib-like bones that interlocked with the next pair in line. Using 3-D computer models, Persons recreated the tail muscles of Carnotaurus. He found that the unusual tail ribs supported a huge caudofemoralis muscle. The interlocked bone structure along the dinosaur's tail did present one drawback: the tail was rigid, making it difficult for the hunter to make quick, fluid turns. Persons says that what Carnotaurus gave up in maneuverability, it made up for in straight ahead speed. For its size, Carnotaurus had the largest caudofemoralis muscle of any known animal, living or extinct.

Persons published these findings in PLoS ONE on Oct.14, with supervisor Philip Currie, a paleontology professor at the U of A.

Contact: Brian Murphy
University of Alberta

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