July 14, 2024

Dinosaur Unveils Superpower Senses Ideal for Life Underground

A dinosaur that was once considered plain and boring has been found to possess extraordinary sensory superpowers, indicating that it may have thrived underground during the Late Cretaceous period alongside species like T. rex and Triceratops.

This is the first time that specific sensory development has been linked to subterranean behaviors in any dinosaur.

According to Lindsay Zanno, study co-author and associate research professor at North Carolina State University, paleontologists generally think of these animals as dull. However, upon closer examination, she and David Button, research associate at the University of Bristol, discovered unique sensory strengths and weaknesses in the Thescelosaurus neglectus, named Willo.

Using CT scanning, the researchers reconstructed the soft tissue of Willo’s skull, which revealed that the species had a less impressive brain size but possessed an extraordinary sense of smell and balance.

Button stated that the olfactory bulbs – the regions of the brain responsible for processing smell – were very well developed in Thescelosaurus. They were larger compared to any other known dinosaur and similar to those of alligators, which can detect the scent of blood from a considerable distance. Thescelosaurus likely used its powerful sense of smell to locate buried plant foods like roots and tubers. It also had an unusually well-developed sense of balance, which is common among burrowing animals.

Based on these sensory findings, the researchers concluded that T. neglectus had poor hearing, only able to detect 15% of the frequencies humans can hear. The dinosaur was especially deaf to high-pitched sounds.

Zanno mentioned that Thescelosaurus had an affinity for low frequency sounds and its hearing range overlapped with that of T. rex. Although it is unclear whether they were adapted to hear T. rex vocalize, knowing when a major predator was nearby would have been advantageous. The deficiencies in hearing and cognition observed in Thescelosaurus are typically associated with animals that spend time underground.

Furthermore, the dinosaur’s muscular arms and legs contribute to the evidence suggesting that it lived underground. With its strong hearing and limbs, as well as its small brain and impaired hearing, T. neglectus possessed characteristics commonly found in animals that spend time or live underground.

While it cannot be definitively stated that these dinosaurs lived underground, Button noted that their ancestors did. This, combined with their unique sensory abilities, strongly suggests that T. neglectus engaged in similar behaviors.

Willo, the subject of much scientific debate, is a small but dense species measuring 12 feet long and weighing 750 pounds. Scientists initially believed that the presence of heart tissue within its ribcage indicated a four-chambered heart, potentially offering insights into bird-like dinosaur physiology. However, subsequent research indicated that the preserved tissue may have come from various sources, including plant matter fossilized alongside the dinosaur’s remains.

Button and Zanno hope that their findings open up new possibilities for exploring the mysteries of dinosaur life underground. They emphasize that there is still much to learn about the sensory abilities and lifestyles of most dinosaurs.

Zanno added that the idea of dinosaurs living under the feet of T. rex and Triceratops is fascinating, and regardless, T. neglectus is certainly not boring.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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