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Nature. 2002 Mar 28;416(6879):387-8.

Biomechanics (Communication arising): prey attack by a large theropod dinosaur.

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Department of Animal Biology/Ecology, Ethology and Evolution, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


Prey-capture strategies in carnivorous dinosaurs have been inferred from the biomechanical features of their tooth structure, the estimated bite force produced, and their diet. Rayfield et al. have used finite-element analysis (FEA) to investigate such structure-function relationships in Allosaurus fragilis, and have found that the skull was designed to bear more stress than could be generated by simple biting. They conclude that this large theropod dinosaur delivered a chop-and-slash 'hatchet' blow to its prey, which it approached with its mouth wide open before driving its upper tooth row downwards. We argue that this mode of predation is unlikely, and that the FEA results, which relate to an 'overengineered' skull, are better explained by the biomechanical demands of prey capture. Understanding the mechanics of predation is important to our knowledge of the feeding habits of carnivorous dinosaurs and for accurate reconstruction their lifestyles.

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