The stegosaurus had a stronger bite than previously thought, one study suggests. This feature enabled the dinosaur to consume a wider variety of plants compared to other herbivores.
The study provided the first detailed analysis of the dinosaur's skull. The research team utilized the new stegosaurus specimen called "Sophie" at the United Kingdom's Natural History Museum.
Sophie's skull was compared with the ones from an erlikosaurus and plateosaurus whose skulls displayed similarities such as a low snout and peg-shaped teeth.
The three dinosaurs, which lived in different periods, also shared the same scissor-like jaw movement, enabling the three herbivores to move their mouths in only two directions: up and down.
"Far from being feeble, as usually thought, stegosaurus actually had a bite force within the range of living herbivorous mammals, such as sheep and cows," said Paul Barrett, the Natural History Museum's Merit Researcher who led the research team.
Computer simulations showed that, despite certain shared characteristics, data on the bite differed.
"Using computer modelling techniques, we were able to reconstruct muscle and bite forces very accurately for the different dinosaurs in our study," said lead author Stephan Lautenschlager from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.
The stegosaurus existed 150 million years ago when grass didn't exist yet. Past theories inferred that this herbivore, given its size, must have consumed plants such as horsetails and ferns.
It was previously assumed that these ancient herbivores all had the same biting strength and abilities. This suggested that they probably shared the same specific diet, but the new data on bite force debunk this old assumption.
The findings suggest a revision in the stegosaurus' ecological role: Sophie's kin must have played the role of spreading cycad seeds. These woody plants were quite abundant during the dinosaur's period.
Results from the analysis placed the dinosaurs in a new light. New study methods provide new findings that continue to surprise the scientific community about the dinosaurs' lives.
The stegosaurus study was conducted by a group of scientists from London, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham. The findings were published in the Nature Scientific Reports journal on May 20.