Friday, March 28, 2008

Teenage Dinosaurs Might Have Butted Heads

Dome-headed dinosaurs might have passed through a combative teenage stage in which they butted heads in violent clashes.

New research reveals the skulls of a group of these young dinosaurs would have compressed and rebounded after a head ram, preventing a brain bashing.

The study, to be announced Friday and detailed in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica, sheds light on a debate over head-butting in so-called pachycephalosaurs, or thick-headed reptiles.

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This group of relatively small dinosaurs lived from about 80 million to 65 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period mainly in Asia and North America, where they likely grazed on ferns and some flowering plants.

Their claim to fame would have to be the dinosaurs' thick bony caps. The ornate head gear ranged from Prenocephale's sloping skull, which resembled a sleek bike helmet, to the lengthy horns that topped the skull of Stygimoloch or the more delicate cap worn by Stegoceras, outlined with a fringe of bony knobs.

With such hard heads, the dinosaurs may have butted one another like bighorn sheep, over mates, food or territory, according to researchers Eric Snively of the University of Alberta and Andrew Cox of Villanova University.

Or the flashy noggins may have served as mate-bait or for visual communication, said Mark Goodwin of the University of California-Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology, and is not necessarily indicative of a weapon.

In a related story, law enforcement in California-Berkeley instituted an immediate lockdown of all teaching and research facilities upon hearing of a dinosaur with a weapon according to local SWAT Commandant Kent Ketchum.

"If the dinosaur simply comes forward and surrenders itself there'll be no trouble," Commandant Ketchum text messaged to all student and faculty cell phones via the Emergency Weapon Or Killers (EWOK) network, adding that a significant reward is available for anyone leading police to the apprehension of the creature or creatures in question.

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