Dinosaurs waggled their tails when they ran, researchers find


Maybe the Flintstones knew something about our prehistoric past with their dog-like dinosaur, Dino, depicted in the cartoon wagging its tail.

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in London have found that dinosaurs actually wag their tails as they walk and run – although ‘not as enthusiastically as your favorite pooch’, according to study leader Peter Bishop from the Queensland Museum.

Dr Bishop said some dinosaurs used their tails to control angular momentum throughout their gait, making animal movements more “economical and feasible”.

“I think the key takeaway for me is that we’ve been, to some degree, ignorant of the axial body: so things like the neck, the head and the trunk, and especially the tail, as far as the locomotion of dinosaurs on land,” Dr Bishop, who is currently a research fellow at Harvard University, told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“There are other parts of the body that contribute to locomotion and this reminds us that we need to consider how the animal as a whole functions and works together and how the different parts of the body are coordinated to produce movement.”

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Dinosaurs wagging their tails

Through simulations, a team of paleontologists, biomechanists and engineers examined the physics of Coelophysis – a small carnivorous theropod and distant cousin of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

“We studied the coelophysis because unlike the T-Rex, which comes just at the end of the dinosaur era, the coelophysis is one of the earliest dinosaurs,” Dr Bishop said.

Coelophysis, as a species, is well known to researchers thanks to the many complete and incomplete skeletons that have been studied, which give researchers a solid grounding in dinosaur anatomy.

An illustration of the Australian dinosaur, the Australovenator.
Australia’s dinosaur, the Australovenator, is said to have waggled its tail as it ran.(Provided: Queensland Museum)

“Studying the coelophysis brings us closer to understanding what is ancestral to dinosaurs, especially bipedal dinosaurs,” Dr Bishop said.

“Even though we only studied one species of bipedal dinosaur in our study, we expect the results to generalize more or less to all bipedal dinosaurs when walking or running.

“So certainly for T-Rex and for Muttaburrasaurus, when he walks and runs on his hind legs, then we would expect the tail to do something similar too [to the Coelophysis].”

A chance discovery

The aim of the study was to understand how a common dinosaur works and Dr Bishop said he was “very surprised” at his team’s chance discovery.

“We weren’t really focusing on the tail, and we certainly weren’t making any predictions or expectations about what we would see with the tail,” he said.

“In previous studies, and I’m also guilty of this, we just assumed that the tail was a fairly static part of the body, it was just a counterweight that came out of the hips backwards and balanced the animal in front. him. and had no real significance for locomotion.

A young man stands under a replica skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Dr. Peter Bishop is currently a research fellow at Harvard University.(Provided: Dr. Peter Bishop)

“When we saw the first simulation result and saw it oscillate from left to right, [it was like] “Oh wow, that’s interesting, we didn’t expect that.”

“And that’s when we decided to do a more focused look at that particular aspect.”

Dr Bishop said he hoped the research would be reflected in how dinosaurs were portrayed on the big screen.

“When Jurassic Park was made in 1993, the animators consulted with paleontologists and they tried to depict the animals with the greatest degree of accuracy, based on what we knew at the time,” he said. he declares.

“And, of course, our understanding has advanced in the nearly three decades since then and I’d like to think that animators who make new documentaries and films continue to try to incorporate the latest scientific knowledge, to present to the public… our best understanding of how these animals moved.”


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