Thursday, December 23, 2010

Most dinosaurs were vegetarian, research proposes

Most dinosaurs were vegetarian rather than meat-eating beasts, research suggests.

While Tyrannosaurus Rex sums up the image of a dinosaur wreaking terror by ripping flesh with powerful jaws, several of its closest relatives were more content nibbling leaves.

A new study of the diet of 90 species of theropod dinosaurs challenged the conservative view that almost all theropods hunted prey, particularly those closest to the ancestors of birds.

Rather it showed that among the most bird-like dinosaurs known as coelurosaurs plant eating was a frequent way of life.

Their diet may have also assisted them survive and use new environments becoming the most winning group of dinosaurs throughout the Cretaceous Period, 145-65 million years ago.

Dr Lindsay Zanno of the Chicago Field Museum said: "Most theropods are obviously adapted to a predatory lifestyle, but somewhere on the line to birds, predatory dinosaurs went soft."

Among theropod dinosaurs, all modern birds and numerous groups of their neighboring extinct relatives belong to a subgroup known as Coelurosauria.

Most were feathered and most clever dinosaurs and those with the smallest body sizes also belong to this group.

Though researchers have been only left with fossilized bones and teeth to work with and so had to infer their diets.

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