Claws, Jaws and Spikes: The Science of the Dinosaur Arsenal

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From the playground sandbox to the big screen, we love to imagine dinosaurs tearing into one another. The teeth, horns, claws, and spikes that adorn their skeletons must have had some purpose, after all.

Since the time of their scientific discovery in the early 19th century, dinosaurs have frequently been depicted as ferocious creatures often locked in lethal combat. Images of a Triceratops facing down a Tyrannosaurus bring such long-past confrontations to life, but, thanks to a slew of new studies, paleontologists can do much more than just imagine attack and defense in the prehistoric world.

Dinosaur bones are what remain of once living, breathing animals, and through disparate scientific techniques – from biomechanics to bone histology – paleontologists are providing us with an unprecedented view of the lives and biology of these creatures.

Some of these findings, such as the ability of Tyrannosaurus to toss large hunks of meat into the air before biting back down on them, make them even more frightening, while the notion that the “weapons” of many herbivorous dinosaurs were used more for display than defense is causing scientists to rethink what has been assumed about their evolution.

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