Munching prehistoric herbivore sheds new light on Triassic diversity – sciencedaily
A Triassic herbivore, known for its supposed similarities to a modern day ostrich, was found to have a totally different approach to eating than previously thought, according to research conducted at the University of Birmingham.
The new finding reveals a much wider diversity of herbivore behavior during the Triassic Period than has been recognized to date.
Called Effigy, the animal was about the size of a gazelle and lived in North America about 205 million years ago. Its fossil remains were found in the Ghost Ranch quarry in New Mexico in the 1940s, although the material was not formally described by paleontologists until 2006.
The remains had been relatively poorly preserved in the quarry and the skull, in particular, was quite poorly deformed, making precise reconstruction difficult. The first analyzes of the specimen concluded that it belonged to the group of reptiles which includes crocodylians and birds and which began to flourish in the Triassic.
Although more closely related to crocodylians, Effigy A light body, elongated neck, large eyes, and beak shared many similarities with a modern-day ostrich, leading researchers to believe that the animal fed by pecking at plant material from the ground.
But a new analysis of the specimen, by experts at the University of Birmingham, revealed that this animal was probably an entirely different type of herbivore than previously thought. The work, carried out in partnership with experts from the University of Bristol, University College London, York University, Virginia Tech and the Natural History Museum, is published in The anatomical file.
The team used new CT scans of Effigy skull which revealed a much more precise reconstruction of the animal. This included new information about the shape of the skull, such as a more rounded bulbous brain cavity and curved upper and lower jaws. Unlike the ostrich beak, which is more rounded, Effigy the beak is more concave with jaws that open and close much like a pair of snips.
The team used this information to model the effects of different forces acting on the skull, including what happens when the animal tingles the ground. By modeling the forces that the skull would have to endure to feed itself by pecking, the researchers calculated that Effigy the skull would probably have broken. Instead, they suggest, the animal would be more likely to use its jaws to cut and nibble on pieces of soft plant material such as young shoots or ferns.
Principal investigator Dr Jordan Bestwick said: ‘The herbivores we already recognize in the Triassic used to feed either by digging roots, like the pig-like aetosaurs, or by searching for leaves high up in the treetops, like the long-necked sauropods. These two-legged browsers with a weak bite are unique to this period and show previously unrecognized diversity among herbivores of this period. “
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