Despite similar diets, plant-eating dinosaurs had “striking differences” in the way they ate, research shows.
By analyzing skull specimens of herbivores, such as the Jurassic-era Dimetrodon and Lionsaurus, British scientists determined that their eating patterns changed according to jaw muscles and bite movements.
The scientists said this represented another sign of “evolutionary innovation and unpredictability”, as all herbivorous dinosaurs are thought to have descended from a single carnivorous ancestor.
Senior study author Professor Paul Barrett, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, said: “Understanding how they evolved to feed on such a wide range of vegetation is crucial if you want to understand how dinosaurs efficiently diverged into so many different types. .many different ways.
“This diversity of feeding mechanisms allowed them to dominate life on land for millions of years to come.”
The Heterodon and Lysodon skulls were studied alongside those of Plasmodon, Psittacodon and Psittacodon, all of which belonged to a group of herbivores known as Ornithischians.
The researchers were then able to reconstruct the jaw muscles of five dinosaur species and simulate their bite movements, suggesting that they ate plants differently.
Heterodontosaurus had large jaw muscles relative to the size of its skull, which allowed it to generate high bite forces, making it ideal for eating tough vegetation, while Cystosaurus had smaller muscles and rearranged them for a more efficient bite.
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Lead author Dr David Barton said: “When we compared the functional performance of the skulls and teeth of these herbivorous dinosaurs, we found significant differences between them in the relative size of jaw muscles, bite force and jaw force. difference.
“This suggests that these dinosaurs, while somewhat similar in appearance, evolved to cope with a plant-based diet in very different ways.”
The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.