Allosaurus, T. Rex-like Dinosaur, Carefully Peeled Flesh Off Of Prey [STUDY]

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 22, 2013 4:13 PM EDT

Allosaurus
The Allosaurus, a smaller cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex, may have fed on its prey the way that falcons do, according to a new study from Ohio University. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A new study has found that the Allosaurus, a smaller cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, may have fed on its prey in a similar way that falcons do.

Unlike the T. Rex, which would swing its head from side to side as it ate its prey, the Allosaurus would smack victims with its head, and then use its knife-like teeth to pull with upward strokes at the felled prey's flesh.

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"People think of it as a smaller, earlier version of a T. rex, but it was successful in a very different way," said Eric Snively, the lead author of the new study, which was published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica. "T. rex was like a professional wrestler with a machete. Allosaurus was like a surgeon with a scalpel." 

The Ohio University researchers stimulated Allosaurus eating habits by making CT scans of the cast of an Allosaurus fossil and then using modeling software to fill in the dino's tissue patterns. The researchers ran their model through various simulations to see all the ways the dinosaur could possibly move and eat.  

"The engineering approach combines all the biological data -- things like where the muscle forces attach and where the joints stop motion -- into a single model," said study co-author John Cotton in a statement. "We can then simulate the physics and predict what Allosaurus was actually capable of doing."

The researchers realized that the Allosaurus ate in the falcon-like fashion because of an unusually placed muscle in its neck, called longissimus capitis superficialis.

"This neck muscle acts like a rider pulling on the reins of a horse's bridle," Snively explained. "If the muscle on one side contracts, it would turn the head in that direction, but if the muscles on both sides pull, it pulls the head straight back."

The Allosaurus had a longissimus muscle lower on its skull, in comparison to the T. Rex. That would mean its head movements during eating were far different from that of a T. Rex; Snively likened it to the way a backhoe rips into the ground.  

Ohio University paleontologist Larry Witmer said that the more we learn about the biology of dinosaurs, the more we learn about the biology of current animals.

"Conventional dinosaurs really stretch the bounds of what is biologically possible," Witmer said. "In other words how can you be fifty tons and move around on land? How do you pump blood to a head that is 30 feet away from your heart? So answers to questions about dinosaurs really shed light on how biological systems work."

"This is sort of the next wave of paleontology," Witmer said, referring to his team's virtual simulations. "It's not being done with picks and shovels; it's being done with computers."

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