The carnivorous Allosaurus, long thought to be much like a scaled down Tyrannosaurus Rex, may have had distinctly different feeding habits due to its lighter anatomy — rendering its dinner-time behavior more similar to a modern-day falcon than to a lumbering alligator.
Experts in fields as diverse as mechanical engineering, computer visualization and dinosaur anatomy got together to simulate and "re-flesh" an Allosaurus head, then ran the simulation through various trials to see how the dinosaur would have moved when eating, in a technique that's been dubbed "multibody dynamics."
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Researchers found that Allosaurus had a considerably lighter head and a differently muscled neck than the large T. Rex, giving it more flexibility and control but less brute power than its larger saurian cousin.
"Allosaurus was uniquely equipped to drive its head down into prey, hold it there, and then pull the head straight up and back with the neck and body, tearing flesh from the carcass … kind of like how a power shovel or backhoe rips into the ground," said Ohio University paleontologist Eric Snively of the findings, in a Ohio University press release.
"Allosaurus, with its lighter head and neck, was like a skater who starts spinning with her arms tucked in," added Snively in the release, "whereas T. rex, with its massive head and neck and heavy teeth out front, was more like the skater with her arms fully extended … and holding bowling balls in her hands. She and the T. rex need a lot more muscle force to get going."
The researchers plan on applying their interesting combination of paleontology and state-of-the-art engineering to the feeding techniques of other dinosaur species.
Here's video of a Peregrine falcon eating a pigeon, using its light head to tear flesh off the carcass in a way not dissimilar to how Allosaurus may have dined. Probably not for the squeamish.