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How to eat a Triceratops

Tyrannosaurus Rex used its fiercely strong jaw and neck muscles to literally rip the head off Triceratops after killing the huge armoured creatures, a new theory claims.

How to eat a Triceratops
A new theory regarding the feeding habits of Tyrannosaurus rex suggests that they regularly decapitated Triceratops prey [Credit: Mark Stevenson/Corbis]
Research into Triceratops fossils from the U.S. shows that the Jurassic apex predator first slew its prey, then wrenched off its head in order to get to nutrient-rich neck meat hidden by body armour.

Tyrannosaurus was well known to feed on the Triceratops but until now few have questioned how it got around the herbivore's tough neck frill.

A study presented last week as the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual meeting, and reported in Nature, looked for an answer by examining bite-scarred Triceratops bones.

Denver Fowler at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, and colleagues studied specimens from Montana's Hell Creek Formation which showed the characteristic Tyrannosaurus bite marks.

Most of the 18 they found with the marks were skulls, none of which showed any kind of healing - indicating that bites were inflicted on dead animals as they were eaten.

The researchers were intrigued to see that many extensive puncture and pull marks were actually on the neck frills of the specimens.

This seemed to make no sense. Made up mostly of bone and keratin, the neck frill would not have offered much nutrition to a hungry dinosaur, Mr Fowler explained.

How to eat a Triceratops
How to eat a Triceratops
How to eat a Triceratops
How to eat a Triceratops
Step one: get a good grip on the neck frill; Step two: tear the head off to expose the tasty neck muscles; Step three: nibble on the soft flesh of Triceratops' face; Step four: feast on the delicacies beneath the frill [Credit: Nate Carroll/Nature]
However, on closer inspection, the team discovered deep parallel grooves which revealed the Tyrannosaurus was probably actually using its teeth and jaws to pull on the frill in an effort to reposition its prey.

They suggested that the frills were the only barrier stopping the predator from sinking its teeth into Triceratops nutrient-rich neck muscles.

'It's gruesome, but the easiest way to do this was to pull the head off,' Mr Fowler told Nature, reportedly with a grin on his face.

He and his colleagues found more evidence to back up their grisly theory by examining the Triceratops ball-socket head-neck joint - known as the occipital condyles - where they also found bite marks which could have only been made if the dinosaur was decapitated.

Palaeontologist Andrew Farke, of California's Raymond M. Alf Museum, said Mr Fowler's work was a good example of how even fragmentary evidence can help expand out knowledge of the past.

'Innovative and thorough, this work really shows the value of incomplete specimens and large samples for interpreting palaeobiology,' he told Nature.

Author: Damien Gayle | Source: Daily Mail [October 25, 2012]

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