Rex dinosaur unable to stick out tongues

Enlarge Image These fossils from Northeast China preserved the hyoid bones.                  Li et al. 2018

T-Rex is usually thought of as a fierce creature, baring its teeth, with tongue wildly stretching from its mouths like a giant and deranged lizards.

A team of researchers, led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, compared the hyoid bones - a horseshoe-shaped bone between the chin and neck which anchors the tongue - of extinct dinosaurs and pterosaurs to their relatives, including modern birds like ostriches and both extinct and current-day alligator specimens.

Researchers were curious if all those dinosaur depictions were accurate, so they made a decision to find out how their tongues actually looked like. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals. Instead, their tongues were probably rooted to the bottoms of their mouths in a manner akin to alligators. Dinosaurs actually couldn't make their tongues stick out at all.

"They've been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time", she said.

However, most extinct dinosaurs have hyoid structures that are more like those of crocodilians - a simple pair of short rods.

Stephen Brusatte, a palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not part of the study, said that the researchers made a great observation about tongues. Because extinct dinosaurs are related to crocodiles, pterosaurs and modern birds, comparing anatomy across these groups can help scientists understand the similarities and differences in tongue anatomy and how traits evolved through time and across different lineages.

The pictures of an enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex in front of a horrified victim, with its big opened mouth its tongue out is a fiction mostly presented in movies because, in reality, Tyrannosaurus Rex couldn't stick out its tongue, as reported a study issued in PLOS ONE journal, cited by ScienceDaily.

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However, this wasn't the case for all the dinosaurs researchers studied.

This greater diversity of shapes could be linked to the ability to fly, they say, because taking to the skies may have led to new feeding behaviors that influenced how tongues evolved. Also, the scientists noted one exception linking tongue diversity to flight as some plant-eating dinosaurs like triceratops had tongue bones that were highly complex and more mobile.

"If you can't use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food", Li added.

So much for those dramatic depictions of dinosaurs, with their gaping mouths and huge waving tongues. "We take birds for granted, but they have insane tongues", Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at Austin and one of the authors of the study, tells Davis.

Modern bird tongues range from spiky, to forked, to tube-like, with hyoid structures that may wrap around the back of the skull or extend to the tip of the tongue.

The fossil record haven't yet pinned down when these changes to the windpipe occurred.

"The shifts in the tongues of pterosaurs and birds seem to go with new diets enabled by flight", Clarke said.

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