Tyrannosaurus rex not stick out its tongue

Rodiano Bonacci
Giugno 22, 2018

The researchers focused on the hyoid bone, a delicate bone at the top of the throat that anchors and supports the tongue, hoping to illuminate the ways that traits evolved across different lineages.

Experts from The University of Texas at Austin and the Chinese Academy of Sciences made the discovery by comparing ancient and modern hyoid bones.

Portrayals of dinosaurs with lizard-like tongues hearken to early interpretations of the beasts as oversized lizards. In the paper, published on Wednesday in PLOS ONE, researchers liken the tongues of most dinosaurs to those of alligators, which are firmly attached to the floor of the mouth.

'Tongues are often overlooked.

The hyoid bones of extinct species of the past were compared to the hyoid bones of present-day avian species and alligators.

The study's results suggest that the hyoid bones of the majority of dinosaurs were pretty similar to those found in modern-day alligators and crocodiles, "short, simple and connected to the tongue that was not very mobile".

"They've been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time", said Julia Clarke, a co-author of the study. In 2016, her study on dinosaur vocalizations found that unlike the dramatic roars and screeches we're familiar with, large dinosaurs probably made low booming and cooing noises. Erin is also an active beekeeper.

Supporting this is the fact that unlike the land-bound T. rex, the flying pterosaur fossils had a much greater variety of tongues.

Beyond simply being a fascinating look at how dinosaurs compare to their modern counterparts (gators aside, at least), the researchers suspect it has something to do with flight.

This greater diversity of shapes could be linked to the ability to fly, they say, because taking to the skies may have led to new feeding behaviors that influenced how tongues evolved.

Modern bird tongues range from spiky, to forked, to tube-like, with hyoid structures that may wrap around the back of the skull or extend to the tip of the tongue.

Some of the fossils, however, had more complicated tongue bones. However, pterosaurs, namely flying dinosaurs, had more complex hyoid bones, just like birds.

That evolution could be related to the loss of dexterity that accompanied the transformation of hands into wings, according to Li.

"If you can't use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food", said Li. "We take birds for granted, but they have insane tongues", Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at Austin and one of the authors of the study, tells Davis.

Further research on other anatomical changes that occurred with shifts in tongue function could help improve our knowledge of the evolution of birds, Clarke said. These changes could in turn affect how birds breathe and vocalize.

To determine the tongues of dinosaurs, scientists examined the fossil record.

"There is more work to be done", Li said.

The study was funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Institution and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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