Dinosaur Smelling Skills Open New Angle On Bird Evolution

By | October 30, 2008

Although we know quite a bit about the lifestyle of dinosaur; where they lived, what they ate, how they walked, not much was known about their sense of smell, until now.

The study, by U of C paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky and Royal Tyrrell Museum curator of dinosaur palaeoecology François Therrien, is the first time that the sense of smell has been evaluated in prehistoric meat-eating dinosaurs. They found that Tyrannosaurus rex had the best nose of all meat-eating dinosaurs, and their results tone down the reputation of T. rex as a scavenger.

The researchers looked at the importance of the sense of smell among various meat-eating dinosaurs, also called theropods, based on the size of their olfactory bulbs, the part of the brain associated with the sense of smell. Although the brains of dinosaurs are not preserved, the impressions they left on skull bones or the space they occupied in the skull reveals the size and shape of the different parts of the brain. Zelenitsky and Therrien CT-scanned and measured the skulls of a wide variety of theropod dinosaurs, including raptors and ostrich-like dinosaurs, as well as the primitive bird Archaeopteryx.

“T. rex has previously been accused of being a scavenger due to its keen sniffer… Large olfactory bulbs are found in living birds and mammals that rely heavily on smell to find meat, in animals that are active at night, and in those animals that patrol large areas. Although the king of carnivorous dinosaurs wouldn’t have passed on scavenging a free dead meal, it may have used its sense of smell to strike at night or to navigate through large territories to find its next victim.” … – scidaily

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