Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Determining Dinosaur Endothermy Based on the Temperature the Egg Shells Formed

Were dinosaurs really fast, aggressive hunters like the ones depicted in the movie "Jurassic World"? Or did they have lower metabolic rates that made them move more like today's alligators and crocodiles? For 150 years, scientists have debated the nature of dinosaurs' body temperatures and how those temperatures influenced their activity levels.

New research by UCLA scientists indicates that some dinosaurs, at least, had the capacity to elevate their body temperature using heat sources in the environment, such as the sun. They also believe the animals were probably more active than modern-day alligators and crocodiles, which can be active and energetic, but only for brief spurts.

The researchers also found evidence that other dinosaurs they studied had lower body temperatures than modern birds, their only living relatives, and were probably less active.

The research is published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Led by Robert Eagle, a researcher in the department of earth, planetary and space sciences in the UCLA College, the scientists examined fossilized dinosaur eggshells from Argentina and Mongolia. Analyzing the shells' chemistry allowed them to determine the temperature at which the eggshells formed -- information that had not been previously known.

"This technique tells you about the internal body temperature of the female dinosaur when she was ovulating," said Aradhna Tripati, a co-author of the study and a UCLA assistant professor of geology, geochemistry and geobiology. "This presents the first the direct measurements of theropod body temperatures."

The Argentine eggshells, which are approximately 80 million years old, are from large, long-necked titanosaur sauropods, members of a family that include the largest animals to ever roam the Earth. The shells from Mongolia's Gobi desert, 71 million to 75 million years old, are from oviraptorid theropods, much smaller dinosaurs that were closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex and birds.

Sauropods' body temperatures were warm -- approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study. The smaller dinosaurs had substantially lower temperatures, probably below 90 degrees.

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