Russian paleontologists say that ankylosaurs, reptiles similar to modern armadillos, managed to cool their heads, literally, and were good listeners.
Paleontologists at the Saint Petersburg State University, Russia, became the first scientists to study in detail the brain and blood vessel structure of the skull of an ankylosaur of the species Bissektipelta archibaldi. The herbivorous dinosaur lived between 160 and 66 million years ago and had a thick shell on its back, similar to today’s armadillos and turtles, but covered with spines; in addition to presenting a tail with two bony nodules at the tip.
“Thanks to the development of computed tomography (CT) over the past 15-20 years, palaeontologists are able to learn more and more about the dinosaur brain and its structure,” said Ivan Kuzmin, lead author of the article and a doctoral student at the Saint Petersburg State University.
The first three-dimensional computer reconstruction of the animal’s skull helped to discover, among other things, that the reptile was able to cool its brain by redistributing blood to the rest of the body, maintaining the ideal temperature of the organ. If the top of the ankylosaurus’s head heated up, the blood vessels deflect blood quickly – as if the animal wore a hat to protect it from the sun.
In addition, scientists point out that the ankylosaur had an extremely developed sense of smell, which helped them to search for food, partners of the opposite sex, and to detect the approach of predators. They also had a keen sense of hearing, as did Tyrannosaurus Rex and modern crocodiles. Despite this, the brain of the Bissektipelta archibaldi was quite small compared to its 3 meters in length: the organ weighed only 26.5 grams.
Paleontologists made a 3D reconstruction of the animal’s skull from three fossil fragments of the species, which were found during an expedition in Uzbekistan, between the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Scientists will study the fossils of other species of ankylosaurs to test all hypotheses about the animals’ sense of hearing, smell, and brain cooling. Meanwhile, the researchers continue to use computed tomography to work with digital models of skulls of hadrosaurs – another genus of dinosaur that was found by the team in Uzbekistan.