Scientists recreate the brain of the largest carnivorous dinosaur with fossils

Spinosaurs were well adapted to life in and out of water, paleontologists recently learned (Getty/iStockphoto)

Spinosaurs were well adapted to life in and out of water, paleontologists recently learned (Getty/iStockphoto)

Scientists have recreated the brain of the largest carnivorous dinosaur to ever walk the Earth – using fossils discovered on the Isle of Wight and the south coast of England.

Spinosaurus – a giant from the late Cretaceous – is perhaps the largest predator that ever lived, reaching 15 meters in length and weighing as much as 20 tons.

Despite bearing a physical resemblance to the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex, the dinosaur has been described as “a huge river monster” that dominated the waterways of what is now North Africa.

Fossilized remains of the “water-loving” predator — thought to have been able to swim fully underwater as it hunted with huge bone-crushing jaws capable of snapping other dinosaurs in half — have also been discovered on the Isle in recent years. or Wight.

Now scientists at the University of Southampton have attempted to digitally recreate the brain of a spinosaurus, which was typically encased in a six-foot-long skull.

In an effort to learn more about how these dinosaurs interacted with their environment, researchers scanned the remains of two of the oldest spinosaurs for which brain material has been discovered: a Baryonyx of Surrey and Ceratosuchops from the Isle of Wight.

While the discovery of Ceratosuchops announced only in 2021, scientists have already managed to reconstruct the creatures’ brains and inner ears, with “surprising” results given the way they terrorized their prey some 125 million years ago.

Because soft organs, such as the brain, do not survive fossilization, the Southampton and Ohio University team used CT scans to peer into perfectly preserved cranial cavities, creating a 3D representation of space called an endocast.

An artist's impression of Ceratosuchops and the orientation of the researchers' endocast in its skull (Anthony Hutchings)

An artist’s impression of Ceratosuchops and the orientation of the researchers’ endocast in its skull (Anthony Hutchings)

In findings to be published in the Diary of Anatomythe researchers found that spinosaurus’ olfactory bulbs — which process odors — weren’t particularly developed, while the ear was likely tuned to low-frequency sounds.

Those parts of the brain involved in keeping the head steady and gaze focused on prey may have been less developed than in later, more specialized spinosaurs, they found.

“Despite their unusual ecology, it appears that the brains and senses of these early spinosaurs share many aspects in common with other large-bodied theropods — there is no evidence that their semi-aquatic lifestyle is reflected in the way their brains are organized. ,” he said. Chris Barker, a PhD student at Southampton, who led the study.

One interpretation of the evidence is that their theropod ancestors already possessed brains and sensory adaptations suitable for part-time fish — meaning spinosaurs only needed to evolve unusual snouts and teeth to become suitable for a semi-aquatic existence.

A Spinosaurus model is installed at the Makuhari Messe on July 13, 2009 in Chiba, Japan (Getty)

A Spinosaurus model is installed at the Makuhari Messe on July 13, 2009 in Chiba, Japan (Getty)

“Because the skulls of all spinosaurs are so specialized for catching fish, it is surprising to see such ‘non-specialised’ brains,” said contributing author Dr. Darren Naish.

“But the results are still significant. It’s exciting to get so much information about sensory abilities – about hearing, smell, balance and so on – from British dinosaurs. Using advanced technology, we basically extracted all brain-related information from these fossils,” said Dr. Naish.

A model of the spinosaurus brain will be displayed alongside its bones at the Dinosaur Isle Museum in Sandown, on the Isle of Wight.

“This new research is just the latest in what amounts to a revolution in paleontology thanks to advances in CT-based imaging of fossils,” said study co-author Lawrence M. Witmer of Ohio University, who has performed CT scanning of dinosaurs. , under which Baryonyxfor a quarter of a century.

“We are now able to assess the cognitive and sensory abilities of extinct animals and examine how the brain evolved in behaviorally extreme dinosaurs such as spinosaurs.”

Dr. Neil Gostling, head of the University of Southampton’s EvoPalaeoLab, said the new study “highlights the important role British fossils play in our constantly evolving, rapidly changing understanding of dinosaurs” and shows how the UK is “at the forefront of research to spinosaurs”.

“Spinosaurs are themselves one of the most controversial dinosaur groups, and this study is a valuable addition to ongoing discussions about their biology and evolution,” added Dr. Gostling to it.

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