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Dino Death Posture Explained

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Dino Death Posture Explained

Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News

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June 8, 2007 — The agonizingly arched necks of dinosaur fossils may really be the signs of their death throes and not the result of drying, dead tendons, as paleontologists have long assumed.

A new re-examination of the possible causes for the strange death posture by a veterinarian and a paleontologist not only throws out the drying tendons theory, but points to some very specific causes of death. It even supports the idea that dinos were warm-blooded.

For decades dino hunters have assumed that the open-mouthed, backward-arched pose of many dinosaur skeletons was the result of the long tendons in the back of the neck drying after death and shrinking — thereby pulling the head up and back.

"I don't think anyone had really thought about it," said paleontologist Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley. "No one had really tested the idea."

No one, until veterinarian Cynthia Marshall Faux of the Museum of the Rockies started looking into it. She studied what happened to the corpses of dead birds she encountered in her work at a raptor center. Birds are a useful model since they are built a lot like dinosaurs.

So do their necks curve back as their corpses dry out?

"We tested it and it didn't work," said Padian, who has published a paper with Marshall Faux in the latest issue of the journal Paleobiology.

In retrospect, it's not at all surprising, said Padian.

After all, an arid place likely to dessicate tendons is an unlikely place for a dead dinosaur to be fossilized, he said. Rather, wet environments such as lakes and lagoons tend to be the kind that allow for rapid burial of the corpse so scavengers can't scatter bones. There, tendons would be unlikely to dry out.

It's more likely that the death pose is caused by diseases similar to tetanus or meningitis, poisoning, or slow asphyxiation from a cloud of volcanic ash or deadly gas, the researchers surmise.

In all these cases the mammalian central nervous system malfunctions in a way that creates just that strange posture, called opisthotonus, Faux and Padian explain.

Interestingly, the same posture is not found among alligators and other "cold-blooded" vertebrates, Padian told Discovery News.

The same held true in the time of dinosaurs: Gators and other animals known to tolerate low oxygen levels don't arch their necks in death. Therapods and flying pterosaurs, however, probably had higher metabolisms — more like mammals today — and asphyxiated in an arched pose the same way mammals do.

"(The arched neck) is actually quite common in dinosaurs," said paleontologist Jack Horner of Montana State University. "When I think about fully articulated skeletons, there's hardly any (in which) we don't see it. It supports the hypothesis that dinosaurs were warm-blooded."

http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/06/08/d...=20070608093030

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I'm amazed at the amount of new information coming to light recently.

The classic death pose has long been used to determine where and where not to dig when working on a new excavation. Finding a skeleton in that pose gives you a good idea where the skull should be if it is present, and gives you a rough outline to follow so that you can avoid damaging the specimen.

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sounds interesting..........

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