Meet one of the weird­est di­nosaurs to have walked the Earth

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The Carnotaurus was one of the Late Cre­ta­ceous pe­riod’s most feared preda­tors. It once stalked across the land with its bright, beady eyes, box-shaped head and dis­tinc­tive bull-like horns. Stand­ing around four me­tres tall and nine me­tres long, these un­usual-look­ing gi­ant theropods were the dis­tant South Amer­i­can cousins of the T-rex.

The Carnotaurus’ most dis­tinc­tive fea­ture, how­ever, is its com­i­cal – and prob­a­bly use­less – tiny arms. While these wouldn’t have made it any less fe­ro­cious if you were con­fronted with one, they do pose an evo­lu­tion­ary puz­zle for palaeon­tol­o­gists to­day (see box­out op­po­site).

Only one Carnotaurus fos­sil has ever been dis­cov­ered, un­earthed in Ar­gentina by palaeon­tol­o­gist Jose Bon­a­parte in 1985. How­ever, it is al­most a full skele­ton and im­pres­sively de­tailed – in­clud­ing fos­silised im­pres­sions of its skin in the sur­round­ing Earth – mak­ing it a very rare find in­deed. The re­mains have given palaeon­tol­o­gists a re­mark­able in­sight into the Carnotaurus’ anatomy, pos­ture, habi­tat and diet.

It’s not hard to see why palaeon­tol­o­gists chose the name Carnotaurus, mean­ing ‘meat-eat­ing bull’. Its dis­tinc­tive horns are thought to have been used by males to fight one an­other, lit­er­ally butting heads when com­pet­ing for ter­ri­tory or to im­press fe­males.

Like many other large theropods, Carnotaurus were car­ni­vores and so had the sharp teeth to match. If their ter­ri­fy­ing back­wards-curv­ing, flesh-tear­ing teeth were not enough to scare you, re­searchers sus­pect that the crafty Carnotaurus was also one of the most in­tel­li­gent theropods – it could def­i­nitely out­run you, and it may have even been able to out­smart you.

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