New tyrannosaur had a sensitive side

Bones, hints of nerve network point to snout’s ability to sense touch, temperature

Daspletosaurus horneri tyrannosaur

FEELIN’ FINE  The coarse skull bones of the newly identified Daspletosaurus horneri (top left) hint that the tyrannosaur had sensory organs in its skin, seen as black dots on the snout scales in this illustration.   

Courtesy of © Dino Pulerà.

Behind their ferocious façade, tyrannosaurs were probably a bit touchy-feely. A new species of tyrannosaur may have had highly sensitive organs in its face that could detect touch and temperature, researchers report March 30 in Scientific Reports.

Several skulls of the newly identified species, Daspletosaurus horneri, which lived about 75 million years ago and grew about 9 meters long, have been dug up in northern Montana since the early 1990s. D. horneri’s facial bones were lumpy and coarse, like “mud that people have walked through a dozen times,” says study coauthor Thomas Carr, a vertebrate paleontologist at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. And nerve holes riddled the dinosaur’s snout and jaw bones. Such texture and wiring is similar to that of crocodilians, close tyrannosaur relatives that have specialized sensory organs in their facial scales.

The dino’s head would have been as sensitive as a “giant fingertip,” Carr says, potentially allowing D. horneri to gently pick up its young. All tyrannosaurs probably had these sensory organs, Carr and colleagues suggest.

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