Dinos’ evolving beaks were like ‘Swiss Army knives’

December 21st, 2010 - 12:59 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 21 (ANI): A new study has claimed that beaks acted like Swiss Army knives for dinosaurs - it was “an evolutionary innovation”, say scientists.

“As modern animals such as birds and turtles demonstrate, a beak can be adapted to function for a variety of purposes from processing different food types — nuts, fruits, leaves and meat — to grooming and other behaviours,” Discovery News quoted Lindsay Zanno as saying.

“It provided a new means for theropods to process foods and engage in other behaviors that they hadn’t had access to up to this point,” added Zanno.

She and colleague Peter Makovicky collected dietary data for theropods, commonly known as “predatory” dinosaurs.

“Carnivory is always rare relative to herbivory in animal communities because food availability becomes more scarce as you move up the food chain. It takes a ton of plant material to sustain a lot of herbivores and a lot of herbivores to sustain a few carnivores,” said Zanno.

So, many of T.Rex’s close relatives were vegetarians. The researchers looked at evidence that included fossilized dinosaur dung, stomach contents, tooth marks, gastric stones and found that nearly two dozen anatomical features that are linked to plant-based diets.

“The ancestors to birds had teeth as did many early birds, so none of the toothless forms are directly ancestral to birds,” Zanno explained.

The results conclude that, “the ancestor to birds was likely to be at least omnivorous.”

In the future, the team hopes to find out if the shift to a more vegetarian diet led to the evolution of four-winged gliding and flight.

The study is published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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