3D scans of the skull and lower jaw of a Stegosaurus fossil reveal the plant-eating dinosaur had a stronger bite than previously thought. Matthew Stock reports.
A Stegosaurus was the size and weight of a bus. Fuelling that massive body meant munching on vast supplies of plants. But just how the Jurassic herbivore managed to eat enough has puzzled scientists, given its tiny, peg-shaped teeth. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR PAUL BARRETT, LEAD DINOSAUR RESEARCHER, NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, SAYING: "Stegosaurus was actually an animal that could get up to 9 metres in length and weigh several tonnes. But this is the average size tooth for a Stegosaurus; pretty tiny with a business end, the crown, that's really only a few millimetres across. So using these very tiny feeble teeth to fuel that big body has always been a bit of a mystery." Using a CT scanner, they produced an accurate 3D digital model of a Stegosaurus skull and added jaw muscles using modern animals as a guide. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR PAUL BARRETT, LEAD DINOSAUR RESEARCHER, NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, SAYING: "By comparing the jaws of living crocodiles and birds and lizards; and working out from those features what dinosaurs would have had. So working backward from what we know about living animals and applying them to the dead ones." The digital model shows forces that the jaws could produce and the subsequent stresses on the skull. And it turns out we've been underestimating the humble Stegosaurus. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR PAUL BARRETT, LEAD DINOSAUR RESEARCHER, NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, SAYING: "It turns out it actually has quite a strong bite very similar to that of a living cow or sheep. So they probably could have eaten plants that were much tougher and stronger than we used to think, and that has some big implications for how we imagine their ecology to be." This means Stegosaurus could have lived in different environments and played an important role in the dispersal of plant seeds. The study was published recently in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.