New research from the University of Southampton suggests that certain Dinosaurs developed super sensitive faces that helped them in a range of activities including eating, determining the temperature and even courtship rituals.
The study, which took advantage of the University’s state of the art X-Ray Imaging Centre (which can be found on Highfield Campus), examined the fossilised skull of a Neovenator Salerii, a large carnivorous dinosaur. The fossil didn’t have to travel far, as it was discovered just across the water on the Isle of Wight.
Sensitive faces aren’t a new feature for dinosaurs, crocodiles still show a similar feature even today which they use to forage in water. However, its the discovery of this in a land-based dinosaur, that would not have foraged in muddy water, which has piqued the interest of researchers.
Chris Barker, a Southampton graduate who conducted his masters in the area of Vertebrate Paleontology, commented:
The 3D 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.
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. This suggests that Neovenator had an extremely sensitive snout – a very useful adaptation, as dinosaurs used their heads for most activities.
The sensitive face is thought to have been used to determine temperature, pressure and even stroking each other’s faces during courtship. Along with this, by examining the wear of the dinosaurs teeth, it was deemed likely that the creature used its sensitive snout to be able to accurately tear flesh from the bone, rather than eating a carcass whole.
Chris also added that there was also a slightly viscous consequence of having such a sensitive face:
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.
Elis Newham, a PhD researcher who was involved in the study, said that it highlighted how far we have come in being able to further our understanding in the area of palaeontology:
This finding comes at an exciting time in palaeontology, where we are using state-of-the-art technology to shed new light on the physiologies of extinct animals […]The range of exciting possibilities for such facial sensitivity show just how far we have come in our re-assessment of dinosaurs from lumbering beasts to complex, highly adapted organisms.
One can only think that this won’t be the last major palaeontology discovery to come out of the University of Southampton.