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Skull study sheds light on dinosaur diversity

those studies, Wilson concluded that unlike other sauropods, titanosaurs walked with their feet planted far from the middles of their bodies, an unusual style of "wide gauge" locomotion.

"Most animals walk with a narrow gauge, with their feet close to the midline, because it's energetically more efficient to walk that way. But some sauropod trackways tell us that a group of sauropods were walking with a new wide-gauge stance. We can identify characteristics of titanosaurs that would have allowed that stance, and we can tie the appearance of those features with the proliferation of wide gauge tracks everywhere in the fossil record at the end of the dinosaur era." Wilson wonders if the change in locomotion---from typical sauropod narrow-gauge walking to titanosaur wide-gauge walking---corresponded to lifestyle changes, such as different feeding habits. But without skulls to study, it has been hard to draw conclusions about how and what titanosaurs ate.

With his work and that of researchers at the State University of New York, Stony Brook who announced the discovery of a complete titanosaur skeleton in 2001, sauropod specialists finally can start piecing together a clearer picture of the dinosaurs' lives.

One feature of the skulls is particularly intriguing. "They have elongate, sort of horse-like skulls with many openings and grooves on the outer surface of their snouts," said Wilson, who worked closely with U-M Museum of Paleontology artist Bonnie Miljour over the course of a year preparing the paper's many illustrations of the skull reconstruction. "Blood vessels and nerves passed through these holes and may suggest an especially sensitive snout. This probably had some role in feeding, but we haven't investigated it at all."

Oddly, a group of distantly related sauropods evolved a similarly grooved snout. "Apparently, these two different branches of sauropods gravitated toward similar anatomical structures, perhaps because they were
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Source:University of Michigan


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