Cut and Pounded: Two different dinosaurs bring the pain
There’s a constant push and pull in paleontology when it comes to dinosaur weaponry. The wonderful array of spikes, horns, claws and clubs that many species were gifted with have entranced various researchers, who, as scientists will, have proposed a myriad of different ways they were used. Few examples of this are better then the duel cases of Kentrosaurus and Stegoceras, two dinosaurs who have recently had their destructive capabilities re-assessed.
Stegoceras was not related to Stegosaurus, despite their similar names. it was a member of a group of dinosaurs called the Pachycephalosaurs (previously mentioned here ) that had rounded, bony skulls. When first
discovered, these animals were suspected to have butted heads, like rams or bighorn sheep. But opinion changed. Some argued that such behavior would have harmed the animals and they were more likely to have rammed each other in the flanks. Some went still further and posited that the animals didn’t use their bony heads for anything more then sexual display.
However, a new study published in PLoS has determined that Stegoceras very likely did ram heads with others of its kind. Researchers Eric Snively and Jessica Theodor ran CT scans on several modern animals, such as Musk Oxen and Bighorn Sheep, and compared their findings to the CT data from Stegoceras. What they saw confirmed that the original theory had been basically correct. Stegoceras, like modern day bruisers, possessed a thoroughly reinforced brain-case that was covered by spongy bone and shielded by the distinctive hardened skull. However, unlike modern head butting animals, Stegoceras had an additional layer of bone sandwiched between these layers. In other words, repeated blunt head trauma–such as the kind gained from smacking the hell out of your head via inter-species contests–would have had relatively little effect on the animal.
Kentrosaurus, by contrast, was clearly a dangerous animal. A member of the Stegosaur family, it had traded in its plates for a row of long, wicked spikes down its tail. Clearly the thagomizer, as the spiked tail has come to be called, was capable of doing damage. But how much? The answer, according to Heinrich Mallison, was a horrific amount. Using computer modeling software, he determined how hard and how fast Kentrosaurus could swing its tail. With a strike speed of over 40 mph, the spikes were easily capable of killing a human with only a glancing blow. A predatory dinosaur that misjudged its strike could potentially have been fatally wounded.
With more research ongoing, it’s entirely likely that soon we’ll have more information on dinosaur weaponry. And perhaps some of the hypotheses and reconstructions will once again change. At any rate, it is still clear that even herbivorous dinosaurs were capable of packing a wallop.
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