Tongue in cheek

Down to Earth - - THE FORTNIGHT -

The fierce Tyran­nosaurus rex or T. rex lash­ing out its tongue like a lizard in the re­cent film Juras­sic World as it is about to de­vour its prey is prob­a­bly a "wrong" re­con­struc­tion as many of the di­nosaurs were tongue-tied.

Mean­ing, their tongues were firmly an­chored to the floors of their mouths and un­able to wag­gle around—much like an al­li­ga­tor or croc­o­dile, says a study pub­lished in PLOS ONE.

Re­searchers ex­am­ined over 330 fos­sil spec­i­mens of the hy­oid—horse­shoe­shaped bony struc­tures be­tween the chin and neck that an­chor the tongue in the mouth— of small bird-like di­nosaurs, large planteat­ing di­nosaurs, fly­ing pterosaurs and the iconic T. rex and com­pared them with high-res­o­lu­tion pho­tos they took of 13 mod­ern bird species and three al­li­ga­tors.

Most di­nosaurs the team stud­ied had short and sim­ple hy­oids, sim­i­lar to those of al­li­ga­tors and croc­o­diles, that have a "tear and gulp" ap­proach to eat­ing their food in which they don't chew much, and there­fore don't need a par­tic­u­larly long or mo­bile tongue. The tongues of the T. rex and other di­nosaurs were likely sim­i­larly short and sim­ple. Birds, by con­trast, have very di­verse and com­plex tongues.

The study also pro­poses a con­nec­tion be­tween the ori­gin of flight and an in­crease in tongue dex­ter­ity.

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