Scientists have reconstructed the brain of the largest carnivorous dinosaur known to have ever walked the Earth – using fossils found on the Isle of Wight and the south coast of England.
The Spinosaurus – a giant from the Late Cretaceous period – was probably the largest predator that ever lived, growing up to 50 feet (15 meters) long and weighing up to 20 tons.
Despite its physical resemblance to the famous Tyrannosaurus rex, the dinosaur has been described as a “huge river monster” that ruled the waterways of what is now North Africa.
In recent years, fossilized remains of the “water-loving” predator – thought to be able to swim fully submerged while hunting with huge bone-crushing jaws capable of snapping other dinosaurs in half – have been discovered on the Isle of Wight for years recently
Now, scientists at the University of Southampton have attempted to digitally recreate the brain of a spinosaur, which was typically encased in a six-foot-long skull.
To learn more about how these dinosaurs interacted with their environment, the researchers scanned the remains of two of the oldest spinosaurs whose brain case material has been discovered – a baryonics from Surrey and Ceratosuchops from the Isle of Wight.
Although found out Ceratosuchops Announced until 2021, scientists have already been able to recreate the brain and inner ears of the animals, with “amazing” results because of how they terrorized their prey around 125 million years ago.
Because soft organs, such as the brain, do not fossilize, the team from Southampton and Ohio University used CT scans to peer into perfectly preserved cranial cavities, creating a 3D representation of the space, called endocast.
In results to be published in Journal of Anatomythe researchers found that spinosaurus’ olfactory bulbs – which process smell – were not particularly developed, and the ear was probably connected to low-frequency sounds.
They found that the parts of the brain involved in keeping the skull stable and the gaze fixed on prey were perhaps less developed than in the more specialized spinosaurs.
“Despite their unusual ecology, the brains and senses of this early spirit seem to have retained many features in common with other large theropods – there is no evidence that their semi-aquatic lifestyles are reflected in the way how their brain is organized,” said Chris Barker, PhD student at Southampton, who led the study.
One interpretation of the evidence is that their theropod ancestors had brains and sensory adaptations suitable for part-time fish-catching – meaning that spinosaurs only needed to develop unusual snouts and teeth to be suitable for a semi-aquatic life .
“Given that the skulls of all spinosaurs are so specialized for catching fish, it is surprising to see such a ‘non-specialised’ brain,” said contributing author Dr Darren Naish.
“But the results are still significant. It is exciting to learn so much about sensory abilities – hearing, smell, balance and so on – from British dinosaurs. “Using cutting-edge technology, we got basically all the brain-related information we could from these fossils,” said Dr Naish.
A model of a spinosaur brain is to be displayed alongside its bones at the Dinosaur Isle Museum in Sandown, on the Isle of Wight.
“This new research is just the latest in a revolution in paleontology brought about by advances in CT-based imaging of fossils,” said co-author Lawrence M. Witmer, of Ohio University, who was CT scanning the dinosaurs. including baryonicsfor a quarter of a century.
“We are now able to assess the cognitive and sensory abilities of extinct animals and explore how the brain evolved in large behavioral dinosaurs such as spinosaurs.”
Dr Neil Gostling, who heads the University of Southampton’s EvoPalaeoLab, said the new study “shows the significant role that British fossils play in our ever-changing understanding of dinosaurs” and shows how the UK is “on at the forefront of spinosaur research”.
“Spinosaurs themselves are one of the most controversial groups of dinosaurs, and this study makes a significant contribution to the ongoing debate about their biology and evolution,” added Dr Gostling.