The sauropod group of dinosaurs included the largest animals that have ever walked the Earth — up to 40 meters long and weighing as much as 90 tons. Evolutionarily speaking, they were obviously very successful, giving rise to a diverse and widely distributed array of plant-eating species. These forms were characterized by a small head, a long and highly flexible neck that allowed them — like modern giraffes — to graze the tops of the tallest trees, and a massive body that made mature specimens invulnerable to predators. The sauropods survived for well over 100 million years before succumbing to the meteorite that snuffed out the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Era.
However, the early representatives of the lineage that led to these lumbering giants were strikingly different in form and habits. For a start, they were carnivores — like Saturnalia tupiniquim, an early sauropod dinosaur that was about the same size as a modern wolf. Recent work carried out by researchers for Ludwig-Maxilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich in collaboration with colleagues in Brazil now confirms this scenario and adds new details to the story. Most of the evidence for the early members of the Sauropodomorpha comes from their type of dentition. Now paleontologists Mario Bronzati and Oliver Rauhut, who are based at LMU and the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology in Munich, have used computer tomography (CT) to analyze fossil skull bones assigned to S. tupiniquim. The high-resolution images of the cranial bones provided by this technique enabled them to deduce the overall surface morphology of the brain. The results suggest that despite being capable of consuming both meat and plants, S. tupiniquim could have followed a purely predatory lifestyle. The new findings appear in Scientific Reports.
Bronzati, Rauhut and their co-authors therefore argue that these features enabled S. tupiniquim to adopt a predatory lifestyle. Their findings strongly suggest that, in contrast to the true sauropods, it had a bipedal gait. Moreover, it was nimble enough to hunt, seize and kill its prey — thanks to its inferred ability to track moving objects with its eyes and to execute rapid movements of its head and neck in a coordinated and precise fashion. With the aid of CT-based reconstruction of the surface anatomy of the brain, the researchers now hope to retrace other stages in the evolution of the sauropodomorphs. Paper. (public access) – Mario Bronzati, Oliver W. M. Rauhut, Jonathas S. Bittencourt, Max C. Langer. Endocast of the Late Triassic (Carnian) dinosaur Saturnalia tupiniquim: implications for the evolution of brain tissue in Sauropodomorpha. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-11737-5 More.
The pop Darwinism we learned in school taught that agile creatures evolved from lumbering giants, not the reverse. The more we learn about evolution as an actual history of life, the worse things are for pop Darwinism.
See also: The dinosaurs died of darkness and cold
Extinction: Had the dinosaurs been dying out before the big K-T extinction?
Dino diminuendo (They were dying out before the asteroid hit.) That might help account for why all dinosaurs disappeared but only a large proportion of other vertebrates.
Smoking did not kill the dinosaurs, but dark matter might have contributed
Dinosaurs doomed by egg-laying?
Size helped largest dinos survive longer?
Do mass extinctions happen every 26 million years or so?