Duck-billed dino ate unlike anything alive today

June 30th, 2009 - 12:33 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 30 (ANI): In a new study, scientists have found evidence that the duck-billed dinosaurs - the Hadrosaurs - had a unique way of eating, unlike any living creature today.

Working with researchers from the Natural History Museum, the study uses a new approach to analyze the feeding mechanisms of dinosaurs and understand their place in the ecosystems of tens of millions of years ago.

According to paleontologist Mark Purnell of the University of Leicester Department of Geology, who led the research, “For millions of years, until their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, duck-billed dinosaurs - or hadrosaurs - were the world’s dominant herbivores.”

They must have been able to break down their food somehow, but without the complex jaw joint of mammals they would not have been able to chew in the same way, and it is difficult to work out how they ate.

It is also unclear what they ate. They might have been grazers, cropping vegetation close to the ground - like today’s cows and sheep - or browsers, eating leaves and twigs - more like deer or giraffes.

Not knowing the answers to these questions makes it difficult to understand Late Cretaceous ecosystems and how they were affected during the major extinction event 65 million years ago.

“Our study uses a new approach based on analysis of the microscopic scratches that formed on hadrosaur’s teeth as they fed, tens of millions of years ago,” said Purnell.

“The scratches have been preserved intact since the animals died. They can tell us precisely how hadrosaur jaws moved, and the kind of food these huge herbivores ate, but nobody has tried to analyze them before,” he added.

The researchers sadi that the scratches reveal that the movements of hadrosaur teeth were complex and involved up and down, sideways and front to back motion.

According to Paul Barrett palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, “This shows that hadrosaurs did chew, but in a completely different way to anything alive today. Rather than a flexible lower jaw joint, they had a hinge between the upper jaws and the rest of the skull.”

“As they bit down on their food the upper jaws were forced outwards, flexing along this hinge so that the tooth surfaces slid sideways across each other, grinding and shredding food in the process,” he said. (ANI)

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