Caltech researchers get dinosaur body temperatures for first time

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Researchers at Caltech say they have taken the first direct temperature measurement of dinosaurs - and a possible step toward disrupting prevailing knowledge in one of paleontology's biggest debates.

For the last three decades or so, most scientists have accepted the hypothesis that dinosaurs were warm blooded - closer in body temperature and metabolic function to modern-day mammals and birds than reptiles.

In a study of isotopic concentrations in dinosaur teeth published today in "Science," Caltech professor John Eiler and his team report temperature readings similar to those of modern mammals and birds - but also suggest a more complicated view of the theory that dinosaurs had a warm-blooded metabolism.

"There are good reasons for the current point of view... but it might be that truth is something quite different," Eiler said.

In a technique he likens to "sticking a thermometer in a creature that's been extinct for 150 million years," Eiler and his team analyzed several teeth from sauropods - believed to be the biggest terrestrial animals to ever inhabit the earth - from sites in the U.S. and Africa.

What they found were high temperatures - but not as high as projected.

"We've provided a number that sounds warm, but you have to consider their tremendous size," Eiler said.

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