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Dinosaurs’ sensitive faces helped them eat, attract mates

IANS | London |

Dinosaurs' faces might have been much more sensitive than previously thought, helping them to pick flesh from bones to attracting potential mates, according to a study.

In the study, researchers examined a 125-million-year-old fossilised skull of Neovenator salerii — a large carnivorous land-based dinosaur — and found that the dinosaur had an extremely sensitive snout, projecting nose and mouth of a mammal, that was previously associated only with aquatic feeders.

However, nothing about the dinosaur suggests it was an aquatic feeder.

"Neovenator's skull revealed the most complete dinosaur neurovascular canal, highly branched, nearest the tip of the snout. This would have housed branches of the large trigeminal nerve which is responsible for sensation in the face and associated blood vessels," said lead researcher Chris Barker, graduate at the University of Southampton.

"This suggests that Neovenator had an extremely sensitive snout — a very useful adaptation, as dinosaurs used their heads for most activities," Barker added.

Further, the Neovenator might also have been able to receive information relating to stimuli such as pressure and temperature, which would have come in useful for many activities, from stroking each other's faces during courtship rituals to precision feeding, the study published in the journal Scientific Reports showed.

"Modern-day species, like crocodilians, use their snout to measure nest temperature, and even pick up their young with extreme care, despite their huge mouths. Neovenator might well have done the same," Barker said.

In addition, images of the dinosaur's teeth also showed that it actively avoided bone while removing flesh from bones.

"Having such a sensitive snout could have had a social use too. Many birds — which are the descendants of dinosaurs — use their beaks in social display, and there is plenty of evidence that carnivorous dinosaurs engaged in face-biting among themselves, perhaps targeting the sensitivity of the face to make a point," Barker added.