From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published July 11, 2011 07:44 AM

Holes in Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals that were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period (about 230 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous (about 65 million years ago), when the Cretaceous—Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of most dinosaur species at the close of the Mesozoic era. New research from the University of Adelaide has added to the debate about whether dinosaurs were cold-blooded and sluggish or warm-blooded and active. Through the first half of the 20th century, most of the scientific community believed dinosaurs to have been sluggish, unintelligent cold-blooded animals. Most research conducted since the 1970s, however, has indicated that dinosaurs were active animals with elevated metabolisms and numerous adaptations for social interaction.

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Professor Roger Seymour from the University's School of Earth & Environmental Sciences has applied the latest theories of human and animal anatomy and physiology to provide insight into the lives of dinosaurs. The results will be published this month in Proceedings B, the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences.

Human thigh bones have tiny holes - known as the nutrient foramen - on the shaft that supply blood to living bone cells inside. New research has shown that the size of those holes is related to the maximum rate that a person can be active during aerobic exercise. Professor Seymour has used this principle to evaluate the activity levels of dinosaurs.

"Far from being lifeless, bone cells have a relatively high metabolic rate and they therefore require a large blood supply to deliver oxygen. On the inside of the bone, the blood supply comes usually from a single artery and vein that pass through a hole on the shaft - the nutrient foramen," he says.

Professor Seymour wondered whether the size of the nutrient foramen might indicate how much blood was necessary to keep the bones in good repair. For example, highly active animals might cause more bone microfractures, requiring more frequent repairs by the bone cells and therefore a greater blood supply.
Comparisons were made with the sizes of the holes in living mammals and reptiles, and their metabolic rates. The study measured mammals ranging from mice to elephants, and reptiles from lizards to crocodiles.

"The results were unequivocal. The sizes of the holes were related closely to the maximum metabolic rates during peak movement in mammals and reptiles," Professor Seymour says. "The holes found in mammals were about 10 times larger than those in reptiles."

These holes were compared to those of fossil dinosaurs. Dr Don Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs from the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada, and Daniela Schwarz-Wings from the Museum für Naturkunde and Humboldt University Berlin, Germany, measured the holes in 10 species of dinosaur from five different groups, including bipedal and quadrupedal carnivores and herbivores, weighing 50kg to 20,000kg.
"On a relative comparison to eliminate the differences in body size, all of the dinosaurs had holes in their thigh bones larger than those of mammals," Professor Seymour says.
"The dinosaurs appeared to be even more active than the mammals. We certainly didn't expect to see that. These results provide additional weight to theories that dinosaurs were warm-blooded and highly active creatures, rather than cold-blooded and sluggish."

Professor Seymour says following the results of this study, it's likely that a simple measurement of foramen size could be used to evaluate maximum activity levels in other vertebrate animal groups, both living and fossils.

For further information: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news46921.html
Photo: Cam Campbell

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