Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Al dente

Studying the skeletal structure of an animal can give a reasonable idea of how its overlying musculature would have been attached, and often more detailed information such as muscle mass can be estimated. Results aren't always fully testable, however, and direct comparison is difficult. As such, interpretation is subjective.

The Tyrannosaurus rex could bite very, very hard. That's not particularly subjective, within our understanding. I mean - there might well be enormous monsters out there somewhere that crack planets with a bite. But we don't know about those as yet. That T. rex had mighty jaws isn't really headline news, but an anatomical study at Liverpool University does estimate the power of its bite at considerably more than previous studies suggested - they say four times more. That seems a surprising leap. The articles in the press focus - naturally - on the headline topic of bite power, but the actual content of the research goes a bit further, looking at the development of feeding habits and diet of the animal as it matured. In the tests, comparisons were made with the bites of humans, Allosaurus and the Nile crocodile. The team claim the croc as the current living holder of the 'World's most powerful bite' title - for terrestrial animals, at least. This claim would seem up for debate to some extent - a quick search finds similar claims for the American alligator and even for hyenas.

It's a shame only one other dinosaur was included in the tests. Allosaurus was a considerably smaller animal and while the test figures were scaled up to equivalent adult T. rex size, there's potential for error in that process. It'd have been nice to have the results for other big therapods to compare, too - Giganotosaurus, Carcharodontsaurus and Spinosaurus, for example. And the Great White's scary great aunt - Carcharocles megalodon. No point saying there's a big difference between aquatic and terrestrial animals. The public want to know.

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