Meet Willo, a special dinosaur with underground superpowers

Reconstructed skull, braincase, and endocast of NCSM 15728. Credit: Scientific Reports (2023).

Long ago, before the last dinosaurs disappeared, a small plant-eating dinosaur named Willo roamed North America.

It wasn’t as big as some of its famous cousins, reaching about 12 feet long and weighing 750 pounds, which is about as heavy as a grand piano.

Researchers thought this dinosaur was a bit dull, but a new look inside its head has changed their minds.

David Button, a dinosaur expert, used a special X-ray machine called a CT scanner to peek inside Willo’s skull.

Even though the dinosaur’s brain was long gone, the scan showed the spaces where the brain and ears used to be.

This helped the scientists guess how well Willo could smell, hear, and keep its balance.

The findings were surprising.

It turns out Willo had some super senses.

Its brain might not have been big, but it had a great sense of smell, maybe even better than any other dinosaur we know about. Imagine being able to sniff out a tiny bit of food buried deep in the ground—Willo could do that!

It also had a keen sense of balance, which would have been handy if it spent time digging and living in tunnels.

But Willo’s hearing wasn’t great. It couldn’t hear high-pitched sounds very well. The sounds it could hear were more like the deep roars of a T. rex. While this doesn’t mean Willo was listening out for T. rex, it probably helped to be aware of such a big predator around.

Lindsay Zanno, another dinosaur scientist who worked with David, mentioned that poor hearing is something you often find in animals that like to dig and live underground.

So, Willo’s not-so-good hearing, excellent smell, and balance might tell us that it liked to spend some of its time beneath the earth’s surface, just like some animals do today.

Willo’s arms and legs were strong too, which would have helped it dig. This, along with its senses, makes scientists think that it might have behaved a bit like animals that burrow and live underground in modern times.

It’s even possible that Willo’s ancestors lived underground, and Willo kept some of their habits.

It’s exciting to think that there were dinosaurs like Willo living under the ground, maybe even under the feet of huge dinosaurs like T. rex and Triceratops.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the secret lives of dinosaurs, but now we’re sure of one thing: Willo was anything but boring!

Follow us on Twitter for more articles about this topic.