Ancient Fossils Reveal Dinosaur Brain Development in Jurassic Species

First Posted: May 20, 2013 12:36 PM EDT

Ever wondered what a dinosaur's brain was like? Scientists may have found out. By using ancient fossils, researchers have shed light on how the brain and inner ear developed in dinosaurs.

In order to examine the brain development in these ancient creatures, researchers picked the brains of 150 million year old dinosaurs. More specifically, they examined different fossils of the Jurassic dinosaur Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki, which lived in what is now Tanzania. The herbivorous dinosaur walked on two legs and possessed short forearms.  It reached sexual maturity at just ten years and grew to about the size of a large kangaroo.

In this case, the researchers examined a very young individual that was about three years of age and a fully grown specimen of more than 12 years of age. Using high-resolution CT scanning and 3D computer imaging, the scientists were able to reconstruct and visualize the brain and inner ear of the dinosaur.

"Well-preserved fossil material which can be used to reconstruct the brain anatomy is usually rare," said co-author Tom Hubner in a news release. "Thus, we were fortunate to have different growth stages available for our study."

After examining their data, the researchers found that the dinosaur's brain probably underwent considerable changes during its growth. These changes were probably a response to environmental and metabolic requirements. However, important parts of the brain responsible for sense of hearing and cognitive processes were already well developed in young individuals.

"Our study shows that the brain was already well-developed in the young dinosaurs and adapted perfectly to interact with their environment and other individuals," said Stephan Lautenschlager, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The new study has important implications for the understanding of how parts of the brain developed in dinosaurs. That said, further research is needed in order to investigate if the pattern of brain development in individual dinosaurs is also reflected in a large scale trend.

The findings are published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

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