With its huge feet, long neck and penchant for plants, the diplodocus is perhaps one of the greatest vegetarians in history. But research has revealed that the sauropod’s ancestors may have had a taste for flesh.
Scientists studying the teeth of some of the first dinosaurs to roam the Earth say they’ve discovered telltale clues about what they ate.
Dr Antonio Ballell Mayoral, lead author of the research from the University of Bristol, said that while omnivores, herbivores and carnivores all existed in Triassic times, their predecessors did not necessarily share the same diets.
“Early members of the two main lineages of vegetarian dinosaurs were not exclusively herbivorous,” he said.
Writing in the journal Science AdvancesBallell and his colleagues tell how they analyzed the teeth of 11 early dinosaurs, including Ngwevu Intloko, a long-necked ancestor of sauropods, and Lesothosaurus diagnosticus, one of the first “bird’s hip” dinosaurswho both lived about 200 million years ago.
“Teeth can give good clues about what an animal is eating because they are our tools for breaking down food,” Ballell said.
In addition to examining the form and function of the dinosaurs’ teeth, the team created computer models of how stress would be distributed between them when bitten.
The team then fed the results into machine learning algorithms based on the dental characteristics and diets of 47 living reptiles such as iguanas, geckos, snakes and crocodiles. This allowed researchers to study the types of food early dinosaurs were likely to have eaten.
The results reveal that while Ngwevu Intloko and other early sauropod relatives were likely to have been herbivores, those living even earlier – as Buriolestes schultziwhich traveled up to 237 million years ago – appear to have been carnivores due to their curved, bladed teeth, similar to those of today’s Komodo dragon, as well as the way these teeth handled the power-related forces.
It also appears that the ancestors of the bird-hipped dinosaurs known as ornithischians – a largely herbivorous group that includes horn-faced dinosaurs such as triceratops and armored dinosaurs such as stegosaurus – may also have been familiar with the taste of meat. As the authors note, Lesothosaurus diagnosticus had teeth that had greater mechanical strength than those typical of carnivores, suggesting that although it could have been a herbivore, it is also possible that it was an omnivore.
The dinosaurs’ early dietary diversity was fundamental to their rise and subsequent dominance, allowing them to adapt to changing climates and food resources, the researchers wrote.
Ballell said that while the earliest dinosaurs were traditionally thought to be carnivorous, more recent findings have challenged that. However, Bristol’s research suggests the carnivore is likely ancestral.
Professor Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the work, described the research as innovative and inspiring.
“We have long wondered how the earliest dinosaurs were able to outlast their competitors and sweep the world. This new study uses cutting-edge methods to study the diets of the oldest dinosaurs in detail never seen before,” he said. -he declares.
“It appears that the earliest dinosaurs were probably meat eaters, and different groups of dinosaurs changed their diets over time, which may have contributed to their diversification,” Brusatte added. “Some of the earliest dinosaurs were already experimenting with a wide variety of foods and feeding styles, and I’m sure that must have played a big part in helping dinosaurs fill so many niches and become so successful. “