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Dinosaur Brain Development Demystified
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Two European scientists have used a unique fossil pair to discover more about the distinct pattern of dinosaur brain development.

Stephan Lautenschlager from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom specializes in dinosaur brains. In a PLoS ONE study last year, Lautenschlager found that dinosaurs had large sensory organs, which contributed to acute senses of smell, hearing, and balance. Now he’s working determine the rate and timing involved in dinosaur brain development.

Lautenschlager and Tom Hübner from the Niedersächsische Landesmuseum in Germany realized the worth of having a juvenile and adult fossil skull from the same dinosaur species, Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki —a 150-million year old herbivorous dinosaur. They used the two Tanzanian Dysalotosaurus fossils to learn more about how the dinosaur brain developed throughout the life stages of this species, and published their findings in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

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Lautenschlager and Hübner reconstructed the brain and inner ear of D. lettowvorbecki using CT scanning and 3D imaging. They found that the brain was already at an advanced stage in the young dinosaur. The dinosaur who died when it was 3 years old had it’s inner ear and cerebral hemispheres already well developed—not much difference was seen in the same parts of the fully-developed 12-year-old specimen.


Stephan Lautenschlager

The findings revealed that during dinosaur growth, the brain changed in certain ways—the olfactory apparatus (the part used for smell) elongated, and the cerebellum (used for motor control and balance) increased in size. The developmental trajectory of the brain was driven by environmental needs—availability of resources, climate changes, and other factors. Brain development was also influenced by functionality—if a certain area was used more in the dinosaur’s earlier life, it developed faster.

Check out the study in the The Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, is pleased to sponsor Paleontology content for This View of Life. Founded in 1932, PRI has outstanding programs in research, collections, and publications, and is a national leader in development of informal Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.

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