New tyrannosaur had a sensitive side

Holotype skull of Daspletosaurus horneri and life reconstruction of its integument based on the distribution of texture on the facial bones. The large horn behind the eye was covered by horn the same material that makes human fingernails. Th

New scientific discoveries about Tyrannosaurs have upended our understanding of the giant predators whose massive populations extended from Asia to the Americas. They are all relatives of the most familiar family member, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Unusually well preserved fossil skulls and skeletons of several of the creatures were found, including adults and juveniles. "We did not find any evidence for lips in tyrannosaurs, the rough texture covered by scales extends almost to the tooth row, providing no space for lips". Once they were certain these textures were created by tissues attached to the skull, the team compared the skull to those of modern birds and crocodiles, whose facial bones show almost identical patterns. The beasts had hypersensitive snouts protected by flat scales.

The trigeminal nerve plays a special sensory role in many mammals, reptiles and birds, carrying sensory signals from whiskers and electrical receptors and enabling the pit viper to home in on infrared radiation from warm-blooded prey. In other words, when these hornysaurs were in the mood for a little lovin', they'd light some dinosaur candles, put on some dinosaur Barry White, and just start nuzzling the crap out of each other.

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"Much of our research went beyond field paleontology - it was generated from lab-based comparative anatomy, the dissection of birds as living dinosaurs and crocodilians as their closest living relatives, and based on the similarities of the facial nerves and arteries we found in those same groups which left a trace on the bone, we were able to then reconstruct in the new tyrannosaur species", notes LSU Health New Orleans anatomist Jayc Sedlmayr, PhD. Comparing the sensorial function of a crocodile with a tyrannosaur may seem like a bit of a stretch, given their physical differences and distance on the evolutionary tree, but Carr says their facial anatomy is virtually identical from a functional perspective. But D. torosus lived during an earlier period, from about 76.7 million to 75.2 million years ago.

In terms how of D. horneri took advantage of its sixth sense, Carr believes the behavior of modern-day crocodiles can offer clues.

"Crocs use their hypersensitive snouts in predation (detecting water ripples), social behavior (snout-to-snout rubbing), assessing nest temperature (arguably the most important in terms of long-term survival of a species), and safely carrying hatchlings", Carr told Gizmodo.