On May 3rd, 2015 we learned about

Fact-checking cooperative carcharodontosaurs

Sometimes art imitates life, and then science goes back in for some fact checking… and art makes some revisions to be closer to life again. When painter Bob Nicholls saw two blackbirds flying away together, carrying a single mealworm between them, he was inspired to paint this unusual scenario, just on a different scale. As a paleoartist, he substituted Carcharodontosaurus saharicus for the blackbirds, and a young Rayosaurus tessonei sauropod for the worm. The image shows the sauropod’s bulky body dangles off the ground, as its neck and tail are held in the teeth of the two predators.

The image caught the eye of paleontologist Donal Henderson, who was inspired to investigate the unusual scenario, but from a bio-mechanical standpoint. He first calculated the relative weights of the three animals, and found that the two theropods probably could have held the sauropod without being pulled off balance.  They probably could have held something even larger than the 1.9 ton sauropod, but, it turns out, only if you handed it to them.

Overly ambitious carcharodontosaurs after all

The second set of calculations concerned the neck and jaw muscles of the  carcharodontosaurs. And as fearsome as these predators were, their bodies were designed for striking and eating, not weight lifting. It’s somewhat like a crocodile, which has strong muscles in its jaw for biting down, but not nearly as much strength for opening up its mouth. So Henderson contacted Nicholls that the two mighty hunters really could have only carried something weighing under 2000 lbs if working together. Like a cow, perhaps?

Nicholls did appreciate the fact-checking though, and now offers a revised version of the painting. Instead of a cow, the more accurate image has a 1870 lb. Rebbachisaurus garasbae being hauled off. Now we just need more data on how cooperative carcharodontosaurs were and we’re all set.

My kindergartner said: This one really seemed to excite her imagination. Her first thought, after “it’s sad that it was a baby sauropod,” was that to really know that this could happen, we’d need to find a fossil of all three dinosaurs in that pose. But then they’d have to all die together… “at the end.” (A volcano burying them, for instance.)

She was also curious about the theropods hauling prey around to “take it to a favorite place,” possibly to share with each other (which, to look back to birds for inspiration again, isn’t completely impossible.)

Finally, we both had questions about how long a sauropod’s neck and tail could be used as a handle when gripped by a mouthful of pointy teeth. The revised painting, linked above, seems to gruesomely reflect this concern as well.

Source: Could these giant dinosaurs have lifted up their pictured prey? by Jeff Hecht, NewScientist

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