Secrets of dinosaur diet examined

July 16, 2012 at 8:03 PM
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BRISTOL, England, July 16 (UPI) -- Using technology more usually found in the automotive and aviation fields, British researchers say they've determined the eating habits of dinosaurs.

Researchers led by the University of Bristol and the Natural History Museum used CT scans and biomechanical modeling to show that Diplodocus -- one of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered -- had a skull adapted to strip leaves from tree branches.

There has been ongoing debate on exactly how massive herbivores ate large quantities of plants, with Diplodocus -- with its long snout and protruding peg-like teeth -- at the very front of its mouth at the center of the controversy.

A 3D model of a complete Diplodocus skull, created using data from a CT scan, was biomechanically analyzed using finite element analysis, or FEA, to test proposed feeding behaviors.

FEA, widely used in designing airplanes and racing cars, revealed the various stresses and strains acting on the Diplodocus' skull during feeding to determine whether the skull or teeth would break under certain conditions.

"Sauropod dinosaurs, like Diplodocus, were so weird and different from living animals that there is no animal we can compare them with," researcher Mark Young said.

"This makes understanding their feeding ecology very difficult. That's why biomechanically modeling is so important to our understanding of long-extinct animals."

The team found combing and raking leaves from branches was well within the strength modeled in Diplodocus' skull bones and teeth.

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