An unusual dinosaur has been shown to have a skull that functioned like a fish-eating crocodile, despite looking like a dinosaur. It also possessed two huge hand claws, perhaps used as grappling hooks to lift fish from the water.
Dr Emily Rayfield at the University of Bristol, UK, used computer modelling techniques more commonly used to discover how a car bonnet buckles during a crash to show that while Baryonyx was eating, its skull bent and stretched in the same way as the skull of the Indian fish-eating gharial a crocodile with long, narrow jaws.
Dr Rayfield said: On excavation, partially digested fish scales and teeth, and a dinosaur bone were found in the stomach region of the animal, demonstrating that at least some of the time this dinosaur ate fish. Moreover, it had a very unusual skull that looked part-dinosaur and part-crocodile, so we wanted to establish which it was more similar to, structurally and functionally a dinosaur or a crocodile.
We used an engineering technique called finite element analysis that reconstructs stress and strain in a structure when loaded. The Baryonyx skull bones were CT-scanned by a colleague at Ohio University, USA, and digitally reconstructed so we could view the internal anatomy of the skull. We then analysed digital models of the snouts of a Baryonyx, a theropod dinosaur, an alligator, and a fish-eating gharial, to see how each snout stressed during feeding. We then compared them to each other.
The results showed that the eating behaviour of Baryonyx was markedly different from that of a typical meat-eating theropod dinosaur or an alligator, and most similar to the fish-eating gharial. Since the bulk of the gharial diet consists of fish, Rayfields study suggests that this was also the case for Baryonyx back in the Cretaceous.
Dr Angela Milner from the Natural History Museum, who first described the dinosaur and is co-author on the paper, said: I thought originall
|Contact: Cherry Lewis|
University of Bristol