“In popular culture, we imagine dinosaurs as more ferocious-looking, but that is not the case.”
Even though we see renditions of them quite often, we don't actually know a lot about the look of dinosaurs. New findings out of the University of Toronto from vertebrate paleontologist Robert Reisz challenge the idea of what dinosaurs may have looked like when they roamed Earth. The presentation just happened and it is already sending shockwaves through museums, research labs, and the internet.
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“When we see dinosaurs in popular culture, such as in the movie Jurassic Park, we see them depicted with big teeth sticking out of their mouths,” Reisz says. Research before suggested that larger dinosaurs, like the Tyrannosaurus rex, would have had a ferocious grin, but smaller dinosaurs like velociraptors, for instance, would have scaly lips covering their teeth.
The U of T Mississauga expert didn't want to just accept that it was the truth and wanted to know more. “We have very little information about dinosaurs’ soft tissue,” he says.
For more clues about what therapods would have looked like, he looked at some of their modern-day reptilian predators, like monitor lizards and crocodiles. According to Reisz, lipless crocodiles do have exposed teeth, much like those you would see in a Jurassic Park movie, but monitor lizards have scaly lips that help to protect the teeth.
Lips function as a way to prevent the lips from drying out. Animals like crocodiles, who spend their time submerged in water, don't need lips because “Their teeth are kept hydrated by an aquatic environment,” Reisz says.
Reptiles with lips typically live on land and therefore require protection. From this information, they can conclude that dinosaur teeth would have been covered by scaly lips.
“It’s also important to remember that teeth would have been partially covered by gums. If we look at where the enamel stops, we can see that a substantial portion of the teeth would be hidden in the gums. The teeth would have appeared much smaller on a living animal. In popular culture, we imagine dinosaurs as more ferocious-looking, but that is not the case.”
Reisz presented his findings yesterday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Vertebrate Paleontology at UTM.
“Canada has some very significant locations for understanding vertebrate evolution, ranging from the late Cretaceous in Alberta to the Pleistocene in the Arctic and the early stages of terrestrial vertebrate evolution in the Atlantic region,” says Reisz, who helped to organize the conference.
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“There are about 1,000 people worldwide who study vertebrate fossils. It’s important to come together and exchange ideas and unite a community that is so widespread geographically.”