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More Refined than T.rex, Allosaurus Ate Like a Bird of Prey [VIDEO]

May 22, 2013 11:29 AM EDT

The mighty T. rex likely killed like a crocodile, using its jaws to dismember prey by violently thrashing its massive head side-to-side. But new paleontological research says that the T. rex's smaller cousin, the Allosaurus, was a more refined eater, using its dexterous neck and razor teeth to nimbly "de-flesh" its prey, much like a like modern-day falcon.

The revelation comes from a multi-disciplined team of researchers at Ohio University that included experts in dinosaur anatomy, mechanical engineering and computer visualization.

Eric Snively, lead author of the new research, said many people think of the Allosaurus as an earlier, smaller version of the T. rex, "but our engineering analyses show that they were very different predators."

"Apparently one size doesn't fit all when it comes to dinosaur feeding styles," Snively said in a statement from Ohio University.

The researchers preformed a CT scan on a high-resolution cast of a 150 million-year-old Allosaurus head and neck, then converted the data into a 3D model, graphically adding musculature, a windpipe and other soft tissues.

The result is a colorful animation of the Allosaurus' head and neck, with full visibility of the complex musculature functions that enabled the Jurassic dinosaur to dismantle carcasses like a falcon.

A key find in the research was the unusual placement of a neck muscle called longissimus capitis superficialis. In most predatory dinosaurs, such as a T. rex, this muscle passed from the side of the neck to a bony wing on the outer back corners of the skull. But in the Allosaurus, the muscle was attached much lower to the skull.

"Allosaurus was uniquely equipped to drive its head down into prey, hold it there, and then pull the head straight up and back with the neck and body, tearing flesh from the carcass ... kind of like how a power shovel or backhoe rips into the ground," Snively said.

The research was published in Palaeontologia Electronica

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