T. rex: Not as brainy as once thought

Credit: Fausto García-Menéndez /Unsplash.

Previous research suggested that dinosaurs, like the mighty T. rex, were smarter than your average reptile but not quite on par with monkeys in terms of intelligence.

However, an international team of experts, including paleontologists, behavioral scientists, and neurologists, took a closer look at dinosaur brains and found that they behaved more like crocodiles and lizards than monkeys.

In a study published last year, it was proposed that dinosaurs, particularly T. rex, had a large number of neurons, which was thought to indicate high intelligence.

Some even suggested that T. rex exhibited behaviors akin to monkeys, such as cultural transmission of knowledge and tool use.

However, the new study, published in The Anatomical Record, challenges these assumptions.

Led by Dr. Kai Caspar from Heinrich Heine University, with contributions from researchers like Dr. Hady George from the University of Bristol and Dr. Cristian Gutierrez-Ibanez from the University of Alberta, the team re-evaluated techniques used to estimate brain size and neuron numbers in dinosaurs.

Their findings revealed that previous estimates of brain size and neuron counts in dinosaurs were unreliable.

In particular, they discovered that the size of the forebrain, a region associated with higher cognitive functions, had been overestimated. Consequently, estimates of neuron counts were also inaccurate.

The team emphasized the importance of considering multiple lines of evidence when reconstructing the biology of extinct species.

This includes examining skeletal anatomy, bone histology, the behavior of living relatives, and trace fossils, in addition to brain anatomy.

“Determining the intelligence of dinosaurs and other extinct animals requires a holistic approach, considering various aspects of their biology and behavior,” explained Hady George from the University of Bristol.

Dr. Caspar cautioned against relying solely on neuron counts to predict intelligence in extinct species. “Neuron counts are not reliable indicators of cognitive performance,” he stated.

Dr. Ornella Bertrand from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont echoed this sentiment, warning that using neuron counts alone could lead to misleading interpretations.

Despite the allure of imagining T. rex as intelligent as a baboon, Dr. Darren Naish from the University of Southampton emphasized that the evidence does not support this idea. Instead, dinosaurs were more akin to smart giant crocodiles in terms of intelligence and behavior.

In essence, while dinosaurs may not have been as brainy as previously thought, their true nature remains fascinating, offering new insights into the ancient world.

The research findings can be found in The Anatomical Record.

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